Ottawa’s transit system, OC Transpo, is facing dire financial projections that may necessitate significant action, including fare increases, new taxes, and the abandonment of plans for expanding light-rail to Kanata, Barrhaven, and Stittsville. The city was already grappling with financial difficulties, having tapped into reserves to address a deficit last year. However, the situation has worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on ridership and the federal government’s work-from-home policies.
Mayor Mark Sutcliffe delivered a sobering financial update, expressing his disappointment with the current state of affairs. OC Transpo has compared ridership numbers to 2019 when the city projected long-term fiscal growth. However, the pandemic has severely hampered this growth, with 112 million rides in 2023 now seeming unlikely. Over the next 25 years, the city expects to face a $3.7 billion revenue shortfall, with ridership not projected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2030.
Challenges faced by OC Transpo include the rising costs of bus service, cumulative effects of fare freezes, and the higher-than-expected cost of light-rail operations. These factors have created a $6.6 billion cumulative shortfall over the next 25 years. This bleak financial outlook has led to discussions on how to address the situation, including seeking funding from provincial and federal governments, reducing costs through service reductions or deferring capital projects, raising fares, taxes, or development charges, and reconsidering expansion plans.
While concerns about the transit system persist, Mayor Sutcliffe emphasized that the project is crucial for building the city and that improvements will gradually ease frustrations. The city now faces the challenge of finding new funding sources or decreasing costs while continuing to provide essential services. A combination of both approaches is likely necessary to resolve the affordability issues facing OC Transpo.
Despite the difficulties and uncertainties, Ottawa’s transit system aims to emerge stronger in the long run. The city will continue to explore options and develop plans to address the financial challenges ahead.
– City of Ottawa