Councillors, transit union say past OC Transpo route cuts to blame for declining ridership

City councillors and the president of the transit union say the sweeping cuts and changes to OC Transpo from a couple of years ago are finally catching up and resulting in lower ridership levels.

Councillor Marianne Wilkinson said she will ask the auditor general to review the issue next year.

"We've had a lot of new communities built, many of them have no bus service at all, and yet they are paying full bus taxes, which are hundreds are hundreds of dollars a year."

Back in 2011, the "route optimization" as OC Transpo called it saw routes reduced, merged with others and longer walks to bus stops for some riders. It was part of a plan to save upwards of $20 million a year.

But Wilkinson said it's time for a review.

"Are we providing value to the people who provide that money to us? And I think it's a situation we haven't looked at very much?"

In 2013, 97.8 million passenger trips were recorded, down from 103 million in 2011.

City staff have consistently pointed to the thousands of fewer jobs in the capital. Mayor Jim Watson even blamed the cold weather, arguing more people are inclined to drive their cars because "cold weather is a factor in people not wanting to stand outside waiting for the bus."

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 279 President Craig Watson said neither of those are the main reasons for the drop in ridership.

"Route optimization did affect the city. I mean, you have people now, seniors, who cannot get a bus...Route optimization did affect this city, but it was an economic decision by the council and transit commission, and you have to accept it," he said. "It's going to cause ridership to drop. Don't be surprised ridership is down because you made decisions. Live with your decisions."

On Wednesday, Transit manager John Manconi maintained "there is no statistical evidence that we have that says there is a direct correlation between route optimization and ridership drop."

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