Ottawa tech firms not convinced LRT trains will deliver talent

Klipfolio-Allan
Klipfolio co-founder Allan Wille, who buses to work in winter, says he's not convinced light rail will make his commute downtown any easier. Photo by Mark Holleron.

As the co-founder of a company that delivers real-time business data to customers, Allan Wille puts a lot of stock in metrics.

But the executive at downtown software firm Klipfolio says he just hasn’t seen enough evidence to convince him that taking the train is going to make his daily commute any faster or easier.

“I’m excited that we’re investing in mass transit … but I don’t know that for the folks that live further out, this is actually going to be a positive benefit,” says Wille, who cycles to his office at World Exchange Plaza most of the year and takes the bus in winter.

Right now, his public transit journey requires a seven-minute walk between his south-end home and the nearest stop and a single bus ride on the No. 282. Once the LRT comes into play, he’ll have to take a bus to Tunney’s Pasture, then transfer to a train, and vice-versa on the return trip.

“For me, this is actually more of an inconvenience,” he argues.

OC Transpo officials say LRT will take hundreds of buses off downtown thoroughfares, easing traffic congestion in the core while providing more “consistent” and “reliable” transit service.

But Wille says the jury is still out on whether the train will end up being a major selling point for offices near the Confederation Line looking to separate themselves from the pack in a highly competitive market for talent.

Light rail will likely make life a bit easier for people who live near the 12.5-kilometre stretch of track that runs from Tunney’s in the west to Blair Station in the east, he says, but for everyone else it will be just a lot of hype until the system actually extends all the way west to Kanata, east to Orleans and south to the Barrhaven and the airport.

'Might open doors'

“I think from a recruiting point of view, I think there’s some early excitement, but I think long-term (LRT) is not going to make much of a difference,” says Wille, who figures more than half of Klipfolio’s 95 employees take public transit to work.

“It’s not going to be a game-changer. If we want everybody to really start adopting it, it’s got to be convenient. With this phased approach ​– and it’s slow ​– habit-building may take a long, long time to come into effect.”

Farther east in Westboro, Pythian’s Christina Anderson says the company’s relative closeness to LRT could be “another tool” to attract new recruits.

The IT consulting and data analytics company currently employs about 150 people at its headquarters on McRae Avenue, which is about “100 steps” from a bus stop and two kilometres from Tunney’s Pasture, the westernmost point on the Confederation Line.

“I think it might open a few more doors for people who want to … take public transport,” says Anderson, the company's global programs and talent acquisition operations manager.

Her colleague Julia Duffy says she doesn't have a clear sense yet of how much light rail might shorten workers’ daily trips to and from the office.

“I think it comes down to speed and time,” says Duffy, who commutes from Kanata. “It may open up more doors, but we don’t know enough.”

"It may open up more doors, but we don't know enough."

At satellite communications firm Telesat, which is vacating its east-end headquarters in December and relocating to a new office at Place Bell on Elgin Street, director of human resources Antonia Micchia says the company felt moving into the core would make it a more attractive landing spot for younger recruits who are less likely to drive.

But the topic of light rail, she adds, “has not come up in a big way” when the company talks to prospective hires.

Although she hopes the system leads to faster commutes and a healthier work-life balance for employees who use it, she says its benefits won’t become clear until the train has been up and running for a while.

“Our employees are still trying to figure out what that will mean for them,” Micchia says.