Advertisement

People in this 'forgotten' pocket of Orléans say OC Transpo is getting them nowhere fast

Natalie Chan stands at the Chapel Hill South park-and-ride on Tuesday afternoon. She walked 15 minutes to get there, eventually catching two buses and walking farther to get to the nearest grocery store, which is only a few kilometres away. (Georges-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC - image credit)
Natalie Chan stands at the Chapel Hill South park-and-ride on Tuesday afternoon. She walked 15 minutes to get there, eventually catching two buses and walking farther to get to the nearest grocery store, which is only a few kilometres away. (Georges-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC - image credit)

Residents of a rapidly developing Ottawa subdivision who say they've been left behind by the city's public transit service are demanding a fix to the infrequent schedules, circuitous routes and dangerous treks along rural roads to reach the nearest bus stop.

"We've been completely forgotten in this neighbourhood," said Lucia Stefanescu, who lives in Bradley Estates, a community in the south-west corner of Orléans.

"We've been completely abandoned. It's kind of like an isolated island."

The neighbourhood is tucked behind Brian Coburn Boulevard near Chapel Hill South, home to an infamous multimillion-dollar park-and-ride that sits empty year-round, and is just under 10 kilometres from Blair station, currently the nearest LRT connection.

It's about a 10-minute drive to reach the LRT, but residents of Bradley Estates and the adjacent Trailsedge development say it can take them nearly an hour by bus, which follows a meandering "milk run" across west Orléans. That's on a good day, if it's on time.

Getting to the nearest grocery store, only five kilometres away, can take just as long. That trip typically involves two buses and a walk of up to a kilometre. If they miss a connecting bus, it can take even longer.

Reno Patry/CBC
Reno Patry/CBC

Residents say public transit options are scarce.

One regular bus route — the 34 — runs at 30-minute intervals, makes 48 stops and ends around 10 p.m. Another route runs six hours a day from the park-and-ride.

An express route runs only a handful of times during morning and afternoon peak hours and stops along Navan Road, which residents describe as "highly dangerous" for pedestrians as it has no sidewalks and is heavily used by large trucks travelling at high speeds.

CBC
CBC

CBC spoke with several residents who used words like "nightmare," "annoying" and "discouraging" to describe their daily commutes.

But it wasn't always like this.

For God's sake, we're the capital city of Canada. - Natalie Chan, resident

Residents say other more efficient routes were gutted in 2019 when OC Transpo made massive changes across the city as it prepared to welcome LRT. One beloved neighbourhood bus route, the 225, was scrapped during the pandemic.

"[We] are faced with unconscionably bad transit service and clearly zero consideration by OC Transpo," wrote one resident in a survey conducted by the local community association in response to the route changes.

WATCH | Resident takes reporter on a trip to nearest grocery store: 

Lost employment opportunities

Natalie Chan, who has spent the last six months searching for a job, said she's ruled out most of her options in west Ottawa because it would take her about two hours to get there using public transit.

Chan, who moved to the Trailsedge community just before the pandemic, said it's difficult to run errands with no car and no retailers in the immediate neighbourhood.

"It just doesn't make sense what happened here," said Chan, comparing Ottawa's transit system to those in other cities where she's lived.

Georges-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC
Georges-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC

For Chan, the bus stop near her house is useless for a large chunk of the day because the route operates only during peak hours. She often walks about 15 minutes to the nearby park-and-ride to catch a different bus there.

"I feel trapped," Chan said. "It's really frustrating ... because for God's sake, we're the capital city of Canada."

'Tedious' trudge to school

For Erik Boyechko, it's about a three-hour round trip between his home in Bradley Estates and the University of Ottawa, where he studies five days a week.

Without a driver's licence, Boyechko said the restrictive transit schedules often prevents him from socializing.

"I have to be careful. I can't spend too much time out downtown," he said.

Michel Aspirot/CBC
Michel Aspirot/CBC

Last week, despite careful planning, Boyechko was late for class when his local bus arrived behind schedule.

"Tedious, frustrating, unreliable," is how he described his current commute.

'Come on, OC, you can do better'

Anik Tracey began commuting to work a month ago, but she's already discussing other options with her husband, who will also soon start working downtown.

"It really does feel like we're isolated," said Tracey. She sets out early each weekday morning to take advantage of faster routes, but her round trip commute can still take hours. Weekend options are even slimmer, she said.

"I don't even understand. We're so close to Blair," Tracey said. "There's got to be a way to make it more efficient for our community."

Tracey believes the city can and should provide a solution, whether it's rapid shuttles from the underutilized Chapel Hill South park-and-ride or better planning of existing routes.

"Come on, OC, you can do better," she urged the city's public transit authority.

Georges-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC
Georges-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC

Stefanescu used public transit last year when she didn't have a car.

She now drives to work in Gatineau, Que., because the same journey on public transit would take two hours and involve several transfers. Nevertheless, she said she's "angry" on behalf of her neighbours, some elderly, whose travel options are limited without a vehicle.

"It's unacceptable," Stefanescu said.

What's the solution? 

Coun. Catherine Kitts agreed the city has failed her constituents when it comes to public transit in that area.

Kitts said OC Transpo told her ridership there is too low there to justify adding routes, while residents tell her current service levels are unreasonable and impractical.

"That's the chicken and the egg situation," said Kitts, who noted development applications "are coming fast and furious" in the area. "So you know, at some point in time we need to make a decision based on opportunity."

WATCH | Councillor on why city should care about south Orléans ridership

Kitts said she's advocating for reinstating the 225, which offered a more direct route to Blair station from the empty park-and-ride she calls "a white elephant."

"A lot of people in south Orléans, in Bradley Estates, they want to take transit," Kitts said. "They want that to be an attractive option for them."

Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang/CBC
Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang/CBC

No new routes planned, city says

The city declined an interview, but wrote in an email late Tuesday afternoon that it doesn't have money set aside to reinstate suspended routes such as the 225.

"No new routes are planned for this area this year," the email reads.

The city is looking at connecting route 228, which only runs three times each morning and afternoon along Navan Road, to the park-and-ride. OC Transpo also promises to add a bus shelter to the stop at Navan and Pagé roads this year to address some safety concerns raised by residents.

This year's transit budget, which needs to find $39 million to balance the books, will be hashed out at Thursday's transit commission meeting, where the public can also weigh in.