Businesses need ‘contingency plans’ to account for city’s troubled LRT system, advocate says


Ottawa’s light-rail transit service resumed on the full length of Line 1 today after a month-long hiatus, but business owners are hesitant to celebrate as they dread a winter of uncertainty, with employees often scrambling to find alternate transportation.

LRT service was halted on July 17 after a safety issue with a train’s wheel hub assembly was discovered during a routine inspection. As of today, a fleet of between nine to 13 single-car trains — varying with ridership peaks — is running along the entirety of the LRT’s east-west line for the rest of August. This will continue into the fall, complemented by shuttle buses connecting the east and west ends with downtown.

The lack of reliable transit has been impacting businesses across the city, at least one advocate says. 

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“The LRT being down impacted business in a big way,” said Michelle Groulx, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas (OCOBIA). “In general, alternative means to get staff to work, like Uber, can be a cost that some businesses take on to make sure staff get to work on time. Or risk staff not being able to make shifts on time or at all.”

Groulx said her own staff were impacted and had to navigate alternative modes of transportation when visiting member businesses across the city.

“Our staff needed to be on-site to serve businesses but, due to the LRT closure, resorted to Uber to ensure timeliness and that services were not impacted,” Groulx said. 

Reliable transit is a “major” consideration for business, Groulx explained, adding that businesses in Carp, Kanata and Barrhaven have been particularly hard-hit by the halted service, with staff unable to make the commute and management “taking on way more duties to stay open.” 

Hiring has also been more challenging, especially for businesses looking to bring on students and young professionals that may not live near their place of work.

“Ottawa needs to consider its non-LRT public transportation routes and optimize these to support workers, students and residents in getting around the city better and more reliably,” Groulx said. “The system is not servicing businesses and those who work outside of the core, especially those businesses not on the existing LRT line.”

In the last 28 days, some businesses say they have been able to manage the shutdown, with workers willing to walk, cycle or take other methods of transportation in the warmer weather. 

Employees who work the patios at the Tavern Group of restaurants have been able to find alternatives during the recent shutdown, said owner Andre Schad. The Tavern Group includes Tavern on the Hill, Tavern on the Falls and Tavern at the Gallery. 

But with colder weather looming, some business owners worry about what the unpredictable transit service could mean.

David Mangano is the co-owner of The Grand Pizzeria and Bar in the ByWard Market, just steps from the Rideau LRT stop.

“Since it’s summer, my staff have been able to use alternate modes of transport, so it hasn’t been much of an issue. However, when the LRT breaks down in the winter, it does cause a lot of transportation problems,” said Mangano. “That’s when we hear the most complaints and have a lot of staff late for work.

“It’s cold and harder to get around. The LRT always breaks down in the winter and it does cause problems for my staff who are trying to commute,” he continued. “The city usually tries to compensate with extra busses so they do make it into work, but I do hear a lot of grumbling when this occurs.”

Ottawa’s transit commission will receive a report analyzing the root cause of the train assembly issues — specifically with the axle bearings — and another “outlining LRT incidents related to freezing rain, lightning strikes and other issues” on Oct. 12. 

But the plan for reliable transit must include alternatives when issues arise with the light rail, Groulx said.

“I think (businesses) will need to create contingency plans for staff transportation,” she said. “It is very unfortunate, but if there is more investment in bus route optimization, it may not be as problematic.”

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