Stand-by replacement buses for LRT to cost $95K per week, city committee hears

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OC Transpo’s emergency rollout of buses that are idling at a city-owned ballpark in case the LRT breaks down is expected to cost taxpayers $95,000 a week, transit boss John Manconi told a city committee on Tuesday.

Beginning Monday, the city began stationing a dedicated fleet of 20 buses at Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton Stadium, just off the Queensway near the Vanier Parkway. The fleet will be called into service should Ottawa’s new light rail system experience delays.

Manconi said the extra buses will allow OC Transpo to service the replacement route as needed without drawing resources from other routes across the city.

The R1 replacement bus service has been a common occurrence since LRT launched in September, with issues such as malfunctioning doors shutting down portions of the Confederation Line. Some, including councillors Jeff Leiper and Catherine McKenney, have called for permanent R1 service until the regular issues with light rail have been resolved.

During an update on phase one of the Confederation Line at a meeting of the city’s finance and economic development committee on Tuesday, councillors were told “progress is being made” at solving the problems with the train control and monitoring systems and the number of issues “is trending downwards.” 

OC Transpo also said door faults “are being managed and impact to service is being minimized.” The overall number of incidents involving doors dropped from 10 during the week of Nov. 18-25 to five last week, committee members heard, with passengers holding doors open accounting for three service interruptions last week.

Manconi noted that the city is holding back portions of its monthly payments to the consortium that built the Confederation Line as a penalty for not delivering on its contractual obligations and will continue to do so until the glitches are ironed out. The city is launching an operational review to nail down the key issues that still need to be fixed.

“We’re paying for service ​– frequent, reliable service ​– and they haven’t met that mark,” Manconi said of the Rideau Transit Group.

In addition to the buses idling at RCGT Park, the city has put 40 buses back on the road to address “chronic issues” with service that cropped up after light rail replaced most downtown bus routes and altered many others. 

In the new year, an additional 19 buses will be put into service. The city is working with ATU 279, the OC Transpo employees’ union, to ensure there are enough bus drivers available to fill the short-term demand.

Ballpark lease cleared

Also on Tuesday, the committee unanimously approved a plan to lease RCGT Park to a group led by the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball club for at least 10 years beginning in 2021.

The Goldeyes are partnering with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, the owners of the CFL’s Redblacks and the OHL’s 67’s, on the bid to keep pro baseball in the capital.

The city and the Goldeyes-OSEG partnership, known as Field of Dreams Enterprises, have signed a memorandum of understanding that would see the new owners pay a base annual rent of $125,000 at RCGT Park for the first three years. After that, annual payments would rise at the rate of inflation. 

The initial lease would run for 10 years. There is also an option for a pair of five-year extensions to the deal, which would see the city cover most baseball-related operating and maintenance costs while the tenants would be responsible for the upkeep of administrative offices, scoreboard and parking lot.

The new owners will also be required to pay the city more than $473,000 in outstanding debts accrued by the previous tenants, the Can-Am League’s Ottawa Champions.

Champions owner Miles Wolff said earlier this fall he’d reached an agreement in principle to sell the team to a group of local investors. But the sale was contingent on the buyers signing a new lease at RCGT Park, a plan that fell through after city staff endorsed a competing bid from the Goldeyes-OSEG partnership.

Council is expected to vote on the proposal at its next meeting on Dec. 11. If councillors give the green light, city staff would be delegated to negotiate the lease. The new team is expected to begin play in a yet-to-be-determined independent league in the 2021 season.