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The Ottawa Transitway: North America's largest busway system

You can't sell BRT to a community without showing residents what North America's largest BRT system, using dedicated bus lanes, looks like. Metro Jacksonville introduces you to the Ottawa Transitway.

Published October 29, 2007 in Learning From      17 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


Ottawa Transitway

"North America's largest dedicated busway system and JTA role model"

Ottawa, Ontario operates one of the largest BRT systems in North America, with over 200,000 daily riders on the Ottawa Transitway, achieving peak capacities of 10,000 passengers per hour per direction. This has been cited as an example of the efficiency of BRT systems. However,while thishas been looked at as a successfor busway backers, italso comes with downfalls.

As ofearly 2007, the Ottawa Transitwaywas operating over capacity with nearly 200 diesel buses per hour per direction traveling on its downtown section. Like similar situations occurring in Minneapolis (Nicollet Mall) and Berkeley, this hasstimulated numerous complaints from residents and businesses about traffic disruption, noise, and air pollution from diesel engines.

Unfortunately, no solution is in sight because even though the system was designed for conversion to light rail, the downtown portion is not, due to the fact that it is one bus-only lane per direction on public roads, and even if it were converted, many other bus routes use the transitway, and building an underground busway through downtown Ottawa would be prohibitively expensive.

In downtown, the bus rapid transit system runs on the same streets as cars and trucks, eliminating parallel parking.

Becausewalkbility and buses don't mix well, dedicated busway stations are typically large and difficult to integrate into urbanpedestrian friendly neighborhoods.

There are many formsof bus rapid transit. However, a dedicated buswayserving as a mass transit trunk lineis essentially an expressway for buses.

The cost savings of BRT have proven to be somewhat illusionary in Ottawa. The Transitway was estimated to cost $97 million when it was first proposed in 1976. However it experienced severe cost overruns and eventually escalated to $440 million. This is almost as much as it cost to build the Calgary C-Train, which is about the same size. Ottawa’s costs were about $14 million/km for BRT, while Calgary spent about $15 million/km for LRT. The Transitway was not significantly cheaper because the majority of it was cut in rock 9 metres below grade with the stations below grade, whereas most of the C-Train system was built at grade with stations at grade. Planners also assumed that BRT stations would be as cheap as LRT stations, but discovered that they needed additional passing lanes for the large number of buses, and overhead walkways for passenger safety.

However, it should be noted that the busway significantly offers more flexibility in moving buses, then a rail system would. Because of its popularity and affordability, as of today, Ottawa is the only major Canadian city trying to handle such a large number of riders on a BRT system. Maybeone day the other Canadian cities will pull their expanding rail systems and follow Ottawa's progressive path.

Calgary's C-Train was built at the same time as Ottawa's Transitway for roughly the same price.

Ottawa Transitway Route Map

Believe it or not, although Ottawa's trunk lines are busways, the city is also experimenting with rail.

Ottawa O-Train (yellow line)

As a pilot project, the 5 mile/5 station O-Train system was built at the cost of $21 million, relatively little compared with the hundreds of millions of dollars usually required to build a new transit line. It runs on a pre-existing Canadian Pacific Railway track, so the only construction work necessary was to build the stations themselves and the passing tracks necessary to allow trains to operate in both directions. The present system uses three diesel-powered Bombardier Talent BR643 low-floor diesel multiple unit trains. It is legally considered a mainline railway despite being used for local public transport purposes, and the service it provides at present is, in terms of its route and service frequency, more like that of an urban railway than a metro or tramway

The current service frequency of a train every fifteen minutes makes it possible to run the line with a fleet of only three trains (of which only two are in service at any given time) and a single track apart from passing sidings at Carleton station; if service is to be increased significantly in the future, double tracks and more trains will be needed. As of early 2006, the O-Train carried an average of approximately 10,000 riders each weekday.

RailOn A Budget

1. It uses existing tracks, eliminating the need to build new railinfrastructure.

2. Double tracking is an exception, not the rule. The less you have, the less it costs.

3. DMU railcars run on existing tracks. The cost of electrifying the lines are eliminated.

4. Stations are "no-frills" and at-grade. At best, they're glorified bus shelters.

So which will it be?

A dedicated busway at +$26 million per mile


Rail, possibly as low as $5 million per mile?



October 29, 2007, 07:40:26 AM
Rail = 10,000 passengers per day @ $3 per round trip = $30,000 per day in revenue = a happy community

BRT = 3 city council members in favor of the system @ $.75 per trip per day = $2.25 per day in revenue = continued blighting of our neighborhoods to make way for large expensive unnecessary structures to deliver a system that no one in the voting public is for.

It's just too bad that in our city council 2 + 2 = $100,000,000 more often than not. 


October 29, 2007, 10:36:12 AM
Add another zero to that number archiphreak.


October 29, 2007, 11:07:01 AM
You can't sell BRT to a community without showing residents what North America's largest BRT system, using dedicated bus lanes, looks like.

The funny thing is, they're not trying to "sell" anything to us. Instead, JTA and the city council are cramming this down our throats. When I send emails questioning the validity of this plan, responses to me from my councilman, Art Graham, are consistently, "We're pretty much sticking to this plan." No rhyme or reason. Nothing. It's embarrassing.


October 29, 2007, 11:36:28 AM
Can you forward some of these emails to metrojacksonville at metrojacksonville dot com?


October 29, 2007, 12:02:01 PM
    Can you also post his email address so that we can all send him questions?

Also, should we send questions, comments and complaints to our own specific council members or is there a "team" within city council that is heading all of this up (besides the Mayor's office, obviously)?  Perhaps a barrage of questions from "concerned citizens" is in order.


October 29, 2007, 12:10:34 PM

District 1:  Clay Yarborough   
Phone: (904) 630-1389
Assistant: Angela Ryan

District 2:  William Bishop   
Phone: (904) 630-1392
Assistant: Suzanne Warren

District 3:  Richard Clark   
Phone: (904) 630-1386
Assistant: Meghan Friel

District 4:  Don Redman   
Phone: (904) 630-1394
Assistant: Scott Wilson

District 5:  Art Shad   
Phone: (904) 630-1382
Assistant: Debbie Delgado

District 6:  Jack Webb   
Phone: (904) 630-1388
Assistant: Suzie Loving

District 7:  Dr. Johnny Gaffney   
Phone: (904) 630-1384
Assistant: Bridgette Green

District 8:  E. Denise Lee   
Phone: (904) 630-1385
Assistant: Tiffany Clark

District 9:  Warren A. Jones   
Phone: (904) 630-1395
Assistant: Rupel Wells

District 10:  Mia Jones   
Phone: (904) 630-1684
Assistant: Daphne Colbert

District 11:  Ray Holt   
Phone: (904) 630-1383
Assistant: Connie Holt

District 12:  Daniel Davis   
Phone: (904) 630-1380
Assistant: Sarah Balme

District 13:  Arthur Graham   
Phone: (904) 630-1397
Assistant: Stan Johnson

District 14:  Michael Corrigan   
Phone: (904) 630-1390
Assistant: Dianne Smith

At-Large Council Members

Group 1:  Ronnie Fussell   
Phone: (904) 630-1393
Assistant: Mina Hosseini

Group 2:  Jay Jabour   
Phone: (904) 630-1381
Assistant: Jenny Huxford
Group 3:  Stephen C. Joost
Phone: (904) 630-1396
Assistant: Celeste Hicks

Group 4:  Kevin Hyde   
Phone: (904) 630-1398
Assistant: Alison Miller

Group 5:  Glorious J. Johnson   
Phone: (904) 630-1387
Assistant: Sandra Lane

9a is my backyard

October 29, 2007, 01:03:47 PM
thanks for posting the contact info downtownparks.  is there anything else we can do besides constantly emailing our city council members?


October 29, 2007, 01:12:50 PM
Contact JTA, Contact your neighbors, get involved, even if it is just passing info along, or spreading the word and getting the ball rolling.


October 29, 2007, 01:22:34 PM
We've already had a positive response from an attorney and CPA...Now we can start to GET REAL! Great photos of that busway, amazing when you see one up close and personal, it's the ugliest darn thing and seems to have STUPID written all over it, where ever it is!



October 29, 2007, 06:26:00 PM
in a democratic society, shouldnt we be able to vote on how they spend such a large sum of our money? unless,we have become a constitutional dictatorship, where we have rights, but they choose wether we recieve them or not.


October 31, 2007, 06:31:34 AM
Last week-end I handed out information on the southwest corridor bus transit to some of the businesses located in the Cedar Hills and 103rd Shopping Center.   Yesterday I stopped to talk to a few of them.  Two businesses contacted COJ and were told that NO JTA was only putting in small bus stops and wouldn't effect their businesses or land acquistion. I directed them to the JTA website that shows a rapid bus system is being planned, also Metrojacksonville website.  Two other business (big box stores) said there was nothing they could do on their end, it was up to their corporate office and doubted they would do anything.  I have handed out flyers (50) and email addresses to surrounding neighbors, telling them to contact COJ, JTA and council persons.

Also, I sent an email to TU and Channel 4, asking why they aren't covering this issue.  No response from them.

If just 20 people tell 5 people, and those 5 people tell another 5, you get the picture and 30% email or call COJ and JTA hopefully our voices/concerns will be heard.


October 31, 2007, 10:28:14 AM
Good work Westside!!!

I also emailed City Council yesterday. CM Bishop responded VERY positively. He asked us not to give up on this issue.

I thanked him for his leadership.


January 27, 2008, 02:29:51 PM
I guess this system doesn't work well when it snows.  That's a bad thing considering this in Canada.

On December 16th, a storm which left 24 cm of snow on the ground in Ottawa left more than 100 busses inoperable as they jack-knifed and became stuck on the snow. The city has now been presented with a report recommending $800k be spent on CCTV cameras to monitor road conditions in key intersections of the transitway.

This leaves me troubled. Recent gang swarmings in and around bus property have had OC Transpo swearing by their security, stating that the transitway is monitered 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Citing lack of funds, they said that additional security was too costly and not needed.

full story:


January 27, 2008, 03:57:11 PM
That's pretty pathetic. Obviously traveling by train in the snow is a much better way to go.

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January 27, 2008, 05:06:40 PM
Hey, it says the video's no longer you have a link for it?


September 13, 2008, 09:28:15 PM
The idea of spending hundreds of millions to construct dedicated busways, to then convert into light rail lines is one of the most foolish ever.  Ottawa would have been better off building that transitway as light rail, right from the beginning.  History has now proven that the construction of the transitway cost just as much as light rail.  If they ever convert it (I doubt this will ever happen), the taxpayers of that community will have ended up paying for two systems.
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