Wed. Jul 6th, 2022

Wednesday’s public meeting, with a second scheduled for Thursday night, will be followed by public hearings that will look into the circumstances that led to breakdowns and derailments of Stage 1 of the city’s LRT system.

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The Ottawa Light Rail Transit Commission held its first of two public meetings Wednesday night at the Shaw Center, giving residents an opportunity to voice their concerns about the city’s beleaguered LRT system.

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Only about half of the 14 scheduled speakers made presentations, shaving the allotted two hours to just under one, but the list of problems enumerated with the city’s light rail and related side effects was impressively lengthy, and included derailments, overcrowding and smoking on platforms, unreliable schedules, cancellations, sewage smells, frozen washrooms, doors not opening, broken wheels, rerouted buses, increased fares and an absence of transparency from the private-public partnership behind the system.

“What we need in this city is a transit system we can be proud of,” said Ottawa Transit Riders group member Laura Shantz, one of the speakers. “I had to tell my kids over and over that it’s okay to take the train. ‘It will not catch on fire, it will not derail.’ And then they point to news stories where it’s caught on fire, where it’s derailed… and it’s hard for me to say this is a system we can take. ”

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The meetings – the second one is scheduled for Thursday night, also at the Shaw Center – will be followed by public hearings that will look into the circumstances that led to breakdowns and derailments of Stage 1 of the city’s LRT system. Those hearings will be held from June 13 to July 8 at the University of Ottawa.

Community advocate Ken Rubin was Wednesday’s first speaker, joking that he took the precaution of riding his bicycle to the meeting. Rubin offered numerous recommendations, including the appointment of a new transit commission chairperson and that representatives from citizens’ groups Transport Action Canada and the Healthy Transportation Coalition be added.

Rubin also recommended that Mayor Jim Watson step away from the LRT file and any negotiations with the Rideau Transit consortium. The city, he added, must end its current 30-year maintenance arrangement and find a more “responsive” LRT maintenance company.

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Rubin also took a swipe at the city’s planning committee, saying it needs to be revamped to include citizens’ group members from such organizations as the Federation of Community Associations, Ecology Ottawa and ACORN Canada, to avoid the “overt favoritism” that benefits developers over such community resources as hospitals, libraries, arts centers and parks.

Ottawa-Center NDP candidate / incumbent Joel Harden, meanwhile, encouraged the commission to conduct a thorough investigation, given the impact he believes it will have on Phase 3 of the transit system, and his worry that the LRT process was set up “not to succeed. ”

“We have to acknowledge the fact that the system has not worked well, and for a brand-new system to have dented wheels, doors not functioning, wires falling off, five derailments… this merits serious public disclosure.”

In closing the meeting, inquiry commissioner Justice William Hourigan promised both answers and transparency.

“We’re going to be forthcoming with a report,” he said. “We need to understand what went wrong, who did what, and we’re going to get those answers for you.”

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