Kate Allsebrook is a fourth-year student at Carleton University who takes the No. 10 bus to Hurdman station in her commute to campus and back home. Allsebrook has noticed delays in the bus frequency for a while.

“Sometimes it does not show up, and I wait for the next slot,” she said.

Given her experience — a frustration felt by many Ottawa transit users — Allsebrook said it’s worrisome that imminent approval of the 2023 OC Transpo budget will likely lead to even worse service.

“It is not fair,” Allsebrook said. “It is just going to make this negative feedback loop. … If you improve public transit and make it acceptable, make it affordable, you will have more people using it.”

The city’s transit commission has voted to support $47 million in proposed cuts to the capital budget of OC Transpo. That includes taking out of service — without replacement — 117 buses in poor condition. City council will rule on Transpo’s draft budget on March 1.

‘The solution is not to further cut service. The solution, in fact, is to increase the frequency and add some bus lines.’

— Nick Grover, Free Transit Ottawa

The transit crunch comes after Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe introduced the city’s 2023 spending plan — with a range of proposed savings and efficiencies — as “a tight budget.”

The Ottawa Coalition for a People’s Budget, a broad alliance of individuals and community groups, is ringing alarm bells over threatened cuts to services, they say Ottawa residents need. The coalition includes organizations such as Horizon Ottawa, Free Transit Ottawa and Ottawa Transit Riders.

“The solution is not to further cut service. The solution, in fact, is to increase the frequency and add some bus lines,” said Nick Grover, a member of Free Transit Ottawa. “It is not bold to say everybody is impacted one way or another.”

The cut is coming from the capital budget, which means upfront investments that could include anything from new buses to new bus routes to improved bus stops.

Free Transit Ottawa’s Nick Grover criticizes Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe’s approach to setting the transit budget as “completely backwards.” The key question, Grover says, is “why is ridership so low?” [Capital Current audio © Ali Al Ashoor]

Grover added that the planned cut effectively means less capacity in the transit system, fewer buses on the roads and less frequency.

“That is quite the opposite of what we need,” he said, rejecting the logic that says low transit ridership means the city should invest less in the system. “The riders could be there if they invested in the service.”

The city’s climate change plan aims to reduce emissions from city operations by 50 per cent by 2030. Grover said what the city is doing, contradicts the climate change plan because it will force more people to drive by impoverishing the public transit system.

“That is not good for the climate, and that is no good for drivers,” Grover said. “It is the air that everyone breathes.”

‘People are going to quit using public transit if the service is going worse.’

— Sam Hersh, spokesperson, Horizon Ottawa

Khulud Baig, another member of the Ottawa Coalition for a People’s Budget, said planned cuts are not considering the interests of vulnerable local residents who are marginalized.

“It impacts the population who rely on transit the most,” said Baig, listing “people who cannot afford cars, families who cannot afford to pick up their kids from schools, the newcomers and seniors who cannot afford alternatives.

“Any sort of under-investment in transit can mean that people are just being kept away from a transit infrastructure … that actually can serve their needs.”

Baig said Ottawa already has a transit affordability crisis.

“Transit is very expensive to take if you are a family of four or five where all people are taking transit,” she said. “On top of that, when we see, for example, a train derailing or a station not working, that further takes away people’s trust in transit infrastructure.”

Sam Hersh, a board member of Horizon Ottawa, said the problems with public transit are a result of years of political choices.

“Not because it is expensive or the rider level is low. They have made the service worse because they continue underfunding it,” he said.

“Comparable cities, such as Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, are similar … in terms of population. They have over 1,000 buses, but they are also smaller geographically.”

“They are saying it will not affect service. It will,” said Hersh. “We have already seen a lot of cancelations. People are going to quit using public transit if the service is going worse.”