Carp transit meeting ‘a first step’

CARP – While not every solution works for everybody, residents learned about transit solutions serving other communities in an April 4 meeting the councillor called ‘the first step’ on creating a plan that will work for people in Carp.

Just under 40 people turned up at the Carp Mess Hall last Thursday to hear from representatives from OC Transpo, Belleville Transit and Innisfil Transit as a growing part of the community looks for solutions to the lack of public transit options for residents of rural west Ottawa.

The meeting was organized by the joint efforts of the Huntley Community Association (HCA), the Village of Carp Business Improvement Area (Village BIA) and the Carp Road Corridor Business Improvement Area (Corridor BIA). Each organization has their own reasons to see improved transit options.

The Corridor BIA struggles to find solutions for the largest light industry and manufacturing zone in Ottawa to get its employees to work. The Village BIA wants to attract more visitors to their tourist-friendly businesses. The HCA wants to ensure residents can get to and from the urban core efficiently and economically.

The meeting, emceed by Randall Denley, started with three subject matter experts sharing their knowledge. OC Transpo Director of Transit Customer Systems and Planning Pat Scrimgeour talked about the current Ottawa system. Belleville Manager of Transit Operations Paul Buck shared details on the city’s new on-demand service. Innisfil Senior Policy Advisor Paul Pentikainen, ironically through video as he was unable to be present, spoke of his community’s partnership with Uber and the subsidy used to provide transit options in that town.

Currently West Carleton-March is the only ward that does not contribute to the transportation levy through residential taxes. While the ward is served by Para Transpo there is no regular bus service but there is a ‘Shopper Route’ – Route 303 runs from Dunrobin and Carp to Kanata Centrum, Bayshore, Lincoln Fields and Carlingwood on Wednesdays.

Scrimgeour says there is a path to building a useful option.

“It usually starts with a very good definition of what the problem is,” he said. “What is the issue we’re trying to solve?”

Buck shared some details on Belleville’s (population of about 50,000) relatively new on-demand service. Users download an app on to their smart phone (but residents can still book service by telephone) and request a bus through their phone. The app will tell them when they can expect their bust at their stop in real time and even watch the bus arrive.

Homeowners’ transit levy is about $170 based on a $350,000 home. Buck says the city has 16 40-foot buses and employs 34 drivers, two supervisors, three mechanics and one customer service representative. Last year the city provided 1,103,500 rides.

Previously two buses followed one ‘flex’ route during late night service.

“It was incredibly unreliable,” Buck said. “Great coverage, but really long rides. More often than not, buses were empty.”

The city partnered with Pantonium Inc. to test an on-demand service initiated by the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC).

“This project had a lot going for it,” Buck said. “They gave us an excellent product, it worked flawlessly, and their customer service continues to be excellent.”

The transit system realized a 300 per cent increase in users and a 70 per cent increase in area covered.

“The customer can now request a bus and not care what the route is or where the bus is,” Buck said.

Buck added the system is not perfect as unannounced ride cancellations continue to be a problem for the autonomous scheduler as well as the incredible growth in usership.

Innisfil is a rural community with a population of about 36,566 near Barrie. They recently partnered with Uber, the ride sharing company, to come up with a transit solution that seems to be working for them.

“There has always been a glaring problem with transportation,” Pentikainen said. “Public transit doesn’t work in a rural area. We wanted to equal supply and demand.”

The town entered in to a partnership with Uber using an Uber Modified System. Users use the Uber app, but select the partner municipality when calling for a vehicle.

The user pays a flat rate between $3 and $5 to key destinations and gets $5 off to specific locations. Uber then sends the remaining bill to the town. Last year the town’s subsidy to Uber was $150,000.

They are now seeing about 7,500 rides per month and Pentikainen expects the town’s portion will be about $500,000 next year.

Following the presentations, many in attendance took advantage of the Q & A session to share thoughts and ideas.

Coun. El-Chantiry, who also spoke at the meeting, caught up with West Carleton Online the following day (April 5).

“It was a good turnout and there were a lot of good ideas,” he said. “Not every solution that works in some areas will work in ours. Those other communities have much bigger populations.”

The Carp community is made up of roughly 725 dwellings and 2,700 residents.

El-Chantiry says he’s hesitant to sign Ward 5 up to the transit option due to the cost to ratepayers. The average home in Ottawa is valued at $390,000 he said.

“If you just take West Carleton, the average home is valued at $500,000,” El-Chantiry said. “With a transit levy, you will be paying close to an additional $1,100 a year.”

”OC Transpo is the most expensive solution,” El-Chantiry said. “There are other solutions and we’re going to sit with the HCA and the two BIAs and we’re going to bring all these numbers together. It’s easy to pick a solution before we have the costs.”

El-Chantiry says the BIAs are discussing a shuttle to the three closest OC Transpo Park and Rides.

“That’s the one people seem to feel most comfortable with as something to look at,” he said.

El-Chantiry said the city has a ride-sharing app of its own but the “city’s system is dysfunctional and not very useful.”

“The people at the meeting are focused on transportation and environmental concerns,” he said. “When we start to discuss how we are going to pay for it, the conversation might change and that’s going to be the question. It was a good meeting to see some different solutions and ideas.”

El-Chantiry says this is just the beginning of a long journey.

“We’re not there yet,” he said. “Yesterday was an information meeting. Next, we have to crunch some numbers. Yesterday was the first step in a long process.”

HCA director Will Rado said those in attendance had a lot of questions and agrees this is the beginning of a long process.

“In terms of next steps, Eli and I were talking after the meeting and he’d like to set up a working group with representation from his office, with the HCA and both BIAs represented at the table as well,” he told West Carleton Online yesterday (April 7).