‘It looks like a world-class transit system, but it’s not.’ Turns out Ottawa just wants trains that run on time
Dec 03, 2022 • 12 hours ago • 3 minute read
Commuters take the LRT in Ottawa on Friday. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia It was Thursday afternoon and I was telling Mike at Printwell printers in the St. Laurent Shopping Centre why I couldn’t wait the expected two-day turnaround to have a custom T-shirt made.
“I want to ride the LRT tomorrow morning,” I explained, “and get riders’ thoughts on the recent LRT report and the state of the system, and I want to wear a T-shirt that reads, ‘Pretend I’m Jim Watson. I’m listening,’ and see what people say.”
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Mike got it immediately. “On time and on budget!” he blurted into the phone, a dig at Watson’s oft-repeated promise. “Come by this afternoon,” he added, “and we’ll get your T-shirt done.”
It turned out, however, that Mike’s civic awareness was not one universally shared by Friday morning’s LRT passengers, at least not the ones with whom I spoke. Fewer than half were aware of the inquiry into the LRT Phase 1 tragicomedy, let alone Commissioner William Hourigan’s scathing report on it that was released this week.
Not only that, a couple of riders I spoke with had never heard of Jim Watson.
That said, there is no small measure of bliss in ignorance, I thought, as I listened to the metal-on-metal screeching of the wheels and wondered whether the “interface” issues and misalignment between wheel and rail profiles cited in the report were at all responsible for the ungodly racket. But maybe it was just me. After all, there can’t be monsters under the bed if you’re unaware of the possibility of monsters under the bed.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone.
“It could sound better,” rider Michel Cecire agreed outside the Hurdman station. “And ride better. With all the delays and all the repairs and all the upgrades, and it still rides and sounds like s—.
“I’m not impressed at all,” he added. “They could have done a lot better for the price. And now they’re going up to Trim Road, and they’re adding north-south. So, instead of costing us an arm and a leg, it’s going to cost us both arms and both legs.”
Bruce Deachman rides Ottawa’s LRT during morning rush hour on Friday. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia Notwithstanding the outsized welcome I received from a woman at the Blair station — “Hello, Jim Watson!” she enthusiastically shouted in response to my T-shirt — my journey up and down the tracks aboard numerous trains on Friday was uneventful. It seemed slow at times — a complaint repeated by a couple of passengers — but there were no derailments, no undue bumpiness and certainly no evidence of the urine that uOttawa student Rachel Haw says she regularly discovers on car floors. “It happens like every two weeks,” she said. “Certainly a lot more than I wish it would.”
If there was no urine Friday, there were traces of bile — directed at Watson. “It’s convenient for him to walk away before this,” one anonymous passenger said. “I’d like to ask him, ‘What the f— happened? Are you just going to write a book and make more money off this? He’s just going to leave Ottawa riders with this mess.”
Martha Chaparro tried a more even approach, noting that, although the public was not well-served during the LRT process, it overshadowed many of the former mayor’s accomplishments. “Whatever good he did was put on the backburner and covered because of this.”
Another rider — Benjamin — was also “not happy” with the lack of transparency on such a large project. “But at least we’re not having the nightmares we had in the past,” he said. “But for me it’s OK because, overall, the train is working now.”
And that was the overarching message I heard from numerous passengers. We have a light-rail system that, in the words of rider Valentina Perez, is only aesthetically world-class. “It looks like a world-class transit system, but it’s not. It’s still not.” But we have an LRT.
Perhaps being the seat of the federal government has left us desensitized to the sort of mismanagement described in Hourigan’s report. Maybe the small-town provincial attitude that we’re frequently tagged with keeps our expectations low and leaves us simply happy to have any sort of light-rail transit at all.
“I’m not mad,” Emma Sobel said as she exited the Blair station Friday. “Jim Watson made some mistakes, but I think it’s great we have a train. From the sleepy town I grew up in to a city that has a train … good for Ottawa. We’ll get there. We’re going to get there with the train.”
All aboard. And mind the urine.
OTTAWA – Dec 2, 2022 -Commuters taking the LRT in Ottawa Friday. TONY CALDWELL, Postmedia. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia OTTAWA – Dec 2, 2022 -Commuters taking the LRT in Ottawa Friday. TONY CALDWELL, Postmedia. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia We apologize, but this video has failed to load.
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