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Interprovincial transit study - 2013

An interprovincial transit study was launched by the NCC in 2009.  It was widely recognized in the National Capital Region that the separate operation of OC Transpo and STO leads in some instances to decisions that are less than optimal when considering the transportation needs of the region as a whole.  

Some examples of shortcomings include:

  • differences in fare structures and other operational differences introduce barriers to higher usage of transit where combinations of OC Transpo and STO routes are required to make a trip
  • some routes that might be more convenient for users end up not being implemented
  • more buses are crossing the Ottawa River with lower passenger loads than otherwise would be (higher overall operational costs). 
  • a very high volume of STO buses are found on Rideau/Wellington streets (~120 per hour at peak times) at a time when Ottawa is investing heavily to remove it's own buses from downtown streets
  • interprovincial transit is less effective at attracting new riders than might otherwise be possible
  • lack of convergence in long term evolution plans

The first phase of this study was completed in the fall of 2009 and involved consultations with various community groups on what they saw as the issues and priorities to be addressed in improving inter-provincial transit in this region.  The CCC participated in these consultations.

In February 2010 a brief presentation was made to the public consultation group (PCG) outlining a list of possible transit improvements in the short, medium, and longer term and group and public feedback was solicited.

In Nov 2010, the consultants released a report summarizing the 230+ responses from the public during Phase IV of this study.  A final report was scheduled for early 2011.

That final report was eventually released to the public in Apr 2013.  Perhaps a decision was made to delay until the proposed Ottawa East-West LRT project was committed and the construction contract signed? (Fall 2012)

There were final recommendations in multiple categories of initiatives aimed at improved integration between STO and OC Transpo in terms of user experience, bus operations, and governance issues.  Finally there was also an analysis of infrastructure options for providing better interprovincial transit service.  

The CCC focused primarily on the long term infrastructure proposals which we hoped would lead to a reduction of the large number of STO buses (> 120 per peak hour) operating on Rideau and Wellington streets as well as to enabling an improved transit system which might lead to an increase of citizens using transit with reduced operational costs.

Final Infrastructure Reccommendation

The final infrastructure recommendation is to leave the STO bus operations as currently planned for the introduction of the Rapibus in fall 2013 until the capacity of the Rapibus system is reached (anticipated in the 2031 timeframe). At that time the Rapibus system should be converted to LRT and cross the Ottawa river on (a yet to be determined) link west of the downtown area.  Once across the river, this LRT would either terminate and transfer passengers to the existing Ottawa east-west LRT line, or possibly an additional parallel LRT line would be built towards downtown Ottawa, either on the surface or in a second tunnel.   A decision on which of those options would be the best was deferred to another study to be done at a future time.  (It was considered unlikely that an LRT from Gatineau would be able to share the existing Ottawa downtown LRT tunnel as it would require trains more frequently than every 90 seconds which was believed unfeasable). The net result of this set of recommendations is that the Rideau/Wellington Street corridors can expect to carry high levels of STO bus traffic (~100 buses per hour at rush hours) similar to today until at least 2031.

The final report and it's numerous supporting documents was posted on the (editor's note: as of Nov 2013 this NCC site appeared to be non-operational)  Interprovincial Transit Study Resources page

As an alternative, some of the detailed reports are available at the links below:

A_Existing Conditions and Issues (data on current passenger flows etc)

C_Evaluation Criteria  (how various integration scenarios were compared and evaluated)

D1_Transit city building  (the policy framework used to guide the study)

D2_User Focus  (STO-OC Transpo changes to acheive a more seamless transit experience)

D5_Governance (How to jointly manage interprovincial transit issues)

D4_Infrastructure (Interprovincial Transit Infrastructure changes recommended)

D3_Operations (How to improve joint operations between STO and OC Transpo)

E_Modeling Report Final 

Infrastructure Reccomendation Details:  (Summary of Document D4 above)

Some background data that serves as useful context:

  • Total number of trips in the morning from Gatineau to Ottawa - 50,200
  •     ...and from Ottawa to Gatineau - 22,600
  • % of those trips from Gatineau to Ottawa made by transit in the AM period - 25%
  •     ... and from Ottawa to Gatineau made by transit in the AM period - 24%
  • 2012 AM peak transit passenger flow from Gatineau to Ottawa - 5100/hour
  •      ...and from Ottawa to Gatineau - 1800/hr
  • 2031 projected peak AM transit passenger flow from Gatineau to Ottawa - 7000/hour
  • There are 2 main destinations for transit passengers from Gatineau (Gatineau downtown and Ottawa downtown) and it is difficult to find a common operational solution that satisfies both needs at the same time.  As a result, what may be the best solution for interprovincial transit needs is not necesarily the best for downtown Gatineau needs and vice versa
In order to arrive at the final recommendation, the Supporting Infrastructure Document went through the following analysis to narrow down the various alternatives:

A. LRT chosen vs Bus
  • Because Ottawa was migrating to an LRT system, the long term solution for the region as a whole was determined to be LRT based.
  • Because any bus based solution would continue to require 100 or more buses per hour circulating in downtown Ottawa, it was decided this could not be a long term solution
  • brief consideration was also given to some other downtown loop based system that was both distinct from STO buses nor integrated into a regional LRT system but it was discounted on the basis that it would require every interprovincial passenger to make a transfer.  It was assumed that this would be 'one transfer too many' and would result in a reduction in inter-provincial transit usage.
  • It was noted that this was the most expensive of all options and that the decision to convert to LRT would likely  be triggered by the Rapibus system reaching system capacity and that this primarily determined by the limitations imposed by the single lane bridge across the Gatineau River and would happen around the 2031 timeframe

B.  Interprovincial LRT Termination point in Gatineau to be at Lorraine (farthest east)

  • Next it was considered where an interprovincial LRT line should terminate in Gatineau. 
  • the line should extend to the farthest eastern point of the Rapibus line (Lorraine)
  • any other eastern terminus (Downtown Hull, the Tache/Montcalm Rapibus terminus) would require additional transfers to reach home which was anticipated to lead to a reduction in usage of transit
  • For Tache/Montcalm is was acknowledged that the extra transfer could be avoided if the Rapibus routes were re-organized so that the neighbourhood feeder routes continued the full distance on the Rapibus line to Montcalm. However the side effect of this would be for passengers continuing to downtown Hull (ie. not the interprovincial passengers) it would result in these many distinct routes continuing on to downtown and hence an increased number of buses in Gatineau's downtown.

C. Crossing Location chosen to be West of Downtown vs East
  • A west of downtown crossing was considered best because it would attract higher ridership (a shorter/faster route) and be considerably less expensive (as it would most likely make use of either the Prince of Wales bridge or the Chaudieres bridge)
  • in contrast an east of downtown crossing would require either an upgrade to the Alexandra bridge (in order to accommodate both transit and existing cars) or require a new tunnel under the Ottawa River.
  • it would also require an underground connection on the Ottawa side in order to reach Ottawa's downtown
  • an east of town connection using the Macdonald-Cartier bridge was considered to be too far east to be useful
  • a solution with both and east and west of downtown crossing was considered desireable but not necessary and probably not worth the extra expense

D. Termination of LRT into Ottawa: TBD
  • the report noted that the preferred option would be to run the interprovincial LRT line through Ottawa's downtown tunnel and have the line terminate and return from either Hurdman or Blair stations
  • however the report acknowledged that this was likely to be too challenging to implement as the combined frequency of trains for both lines at 2031 ridership levels would be more frequent than what could be safely implemented (The maximum frequency of trains is considered to be every 110-120 seconds
  • other alternatives such as longer trains were beyond the capabilities of Ottawa's east-west LRT system as currently being built and so if pursued later would mean increased cost to upgrade Ottawa's LRT (longer station platforms, new trainsets)
  • As such the report abstained from making a recommendation and merely listed several alternative possibilities along with their pros/cons relative to eachother.
  • alternative 1: run an interprovincial LRT line on parallel tracks on surface streets in Ottawa.
    • but the report acknowledged that Ottawa had just spent a lot of money to put an LRT line below grade so Ottawa may not support a move to add another LRT line above grade
  • alternative 2: run an interprovincial LRT line on tracks in a second tunnel parallel to the existing one
    • but the report acknowledged that this may be too cost prohibitive
  • alternative 3: terminate the interprovincial LRT line on the west side of Ottawa (Bayview or Lebreton) and require all passengers to transfer to the main Ottawa east-west LRT line
    • the report said the Ottawa LRT line should have sufficient capacity to accommodate the level of transferring passengers in 2031
    • but the report acknowledged that this extra transfer may lead to a reduction in inter-provincial transit passengers which was deemed to be a major drawback of this approach

Lacking a definitive answer on how the recommended solution is to be integrated into the Ottawa downtown, it throws into question the viability of the whole strategy.  A skeptic could summarize the net result as "the Study team felt this was too hard a problem to solve and decided not to make a decision instead punting it to the future".  That is not thebest of a strategies.  

Instead, the study recommended to focus  on more shorter term measures such as moderate improvements to the OC Transpo/STO user experience and joint governance issues as well as making some operational adjustments that might lead to slightly better efficiencies.

The report also mentioned several other smaller interim possibilities that could be considered.

i)  Addition of a downtown circulator bus route:  A new bus route should be created that loops between the 2 downtowns. This would provide a useful daytime route for office workers shuttling between meetings on both sides of the river and for tourists.  This route would not contribute meaningfully to addressing peak period capacity issues, increasing the desireability of transit as a commuting option to either downtown, nor help to solve the problem of the volume of buses on Rideau/Wellington streets.

ii) Addition of interprovincial bus service across a new east end bridge.  At some point after 2021  a new bridge in the east end may exist.  The addition of some bus routes across this bridge would enable some transit users to travel between the east ends of both cities without needing to journey through the downtown.  This would enable a reduction of about 10% of the number of STO buses on Rideau/Wellington streets (ie. 10-15 less buses per hour) and may lead to some additional interprovincial transit passengers.

iii)  O-Train extension to Gatineau: There could be some mid-term benefit in extending the current diesel O-Train across the Prince of Wales bridge and to downtown Hull on existing track.  This would require some upgrades to the bridge but would be money well spent if the long term vision was to eventually use that bridge for an LRT as well.  This interim O-Train extension would not be of much benefit to Gatineau passengers bound for Ottawa (except for some wishing to reach points in the south of Ottawa) but would be of moderate benefit for Ottawa passengers bound for downtown Hull.  However this is not the peak direction of interprovincial travel and hence not at the top of the priority list for investment and improvement nor does it address the problem of the volume of buses on Rideau/Wellington streets.

Other Alternatives which were studied and rejected include:

1. Extension of the diesel O-Train across the Prince of Wales bridge to meet the Rapibus at
    Montcalm or Casino
    • the primary shortcoming of this project would be that it could not handle the volume of interprovincial passengers coming from Gatineau.  At 250 passengers per train and at 1 train every 7.5 minutes the capacity would be 2000 passengers per hour whereas today's interprovincial demand is 5500 passengers per hour (from Gatineau to Ottawa)
    • this project would also require most interprovincial passengers bound for downtown Ottawa to make double transfers (from Rapibus to O-Train,and then O-Train to LRT)
2. Conversion of the Prince of Wales bridge to roadway to enable Rapibus to terminate at 
    Bayview and transfer passengers to the Ottawa East-West LRT line
    • this is a project that could be implemented in the near term timeframe and make it possible to remove the vast majority of STO buses from Rideau and Wellington Streets until the region is ready to convert the Rapibus line to LRT (ie. for the next 20 years or so)
    • at one time there were reports that this option was being considered, however no mention is made of it in the final reports.
February 2010 Status Report:

The set of infrastructure improvements which had been suggested for further analysis as at February 2010 were as follows:   Six different alternatives were tabled:

a)       bringing STO buses across a (current rail-based) Prince of Wales bridge (which would need to be substantially altered for buses) and transferring passengers to the new Ottawa LRT system at Bayview (after it is operational in 2018).

b)       The reverse of (a)…Once Ottawa has a North-South LRT running (post 2019) to extend it’s northern terminus across the Prince of Wales bridge to Gatineau where STO passengers would transfer from buses to the LRT.

c)       Like (b) except this North-South LRT with every 2nd north-south  train crossing the bridge to Gatineau alternating with the next  north-south train which would merge onto the Ottawa east-west LRT line and continue through downtown Ottawa

d)       Implementation of a loop based rail system between Gatineau and Ottawa downtown which would probably use the Portage bridge and Alexandra bridges

e)       An alternating Ottawa LRT line…this time the east-west line…. from Blair station where every other train would  turn north at Bayview to cross the Prince of Wales bridge into Gatineau where Gatineau passengers would  transfer to/from STO buses there.  This would alternate with regular Ottawa east-west LRTs which would travel the full east-west line from Blair to the Ottawa far western terminus

f)         Extending Ottawa’s downtown tunnel with a branch that travels north under lowertown to cross the river into Gatineau.  Ottawa’s future north-south LRT would (after travelling through Ottawa downtown) branch off north to serve downtown Gatineau.


What has not yet been supplied is any kind of data or analysis that could be used to evaluate between the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options.  Information such as anticipated ridership analysis,  capital costs, operating costs, etc is required. 

The study website as of Sept 2010 was missing any kind of visibility of the upcoming study steps, deliverables, or timelines, however it has been verbally stated by the NCC that a final report/recommendation is due by the end of 2010. 

This was the (now no longer available)  NCC's interprovincial transit study website.  

Nov 2010 update:

The consultants have released their report summarizing the 230+ responses from the public during the current (Phase IV) of this study. The majority of responses on the infrastructure topic favored an LRT based solution forming a loop crossing the Ottawa River both west and east of the downtown and terminating on the Gatineau side at boul Lorain.

On the topic of operations, the top 3 comments were to (a) co-ordinate STO and OC Transpo schedules at transfer points, (b) introduce a common fare system, and finally (c) introduce a common smart card system.

A final recommendation from the NCC and their consultants is promised for late 2010/early 2011.

This is the full Phase IV summary of public consultation report.