Ottawa

People in this 'forgotten' pocket of Orléans say OC Transpo is getting them nowhere fast

Residents of Bradley Estates and Trailsedge say they've been left behind by the city's public transit service, and are demanding a fix to the infrequent schedules, circuitous routes and dangerous treks along rural roads.

Public transit users in Bradley Estates, Trailsedge feeling 'trapped,' 'completely abandoned'

A woman stands in front of a bus shelter.
Natalie Chan stands at the Chapel Hill South park-and-ride on Tuesday afternoon. She walked 15 minutes to get there, eventually catching two buses and walking farther to get to the nearest grocery store, which is only a few kilometres away. (Georges-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC)

Residents of a rapidly developing Ottawa subdivision who say they've been left behind by the city's public transit service are demanding a fix to the infrequent schedules, circuitous routes and dangerous treks along rural roads to reach the nearest bus stop.

"We've been completely forgotten in this neighbourhood," said Lucia Stefanescu, who lives in Bradley Estates, a community in the south-west corner of Orléans.

"We've been completely abandoned. It's kind of like an isolated island."

The neighbourhood is tucked behind Brian Coburn Boulevard near Chapel Hill South, home to an infamous multimillion-dollar park-and-ride that sits empty year-round, and is just under 10 kilometres from Blair station, currently the nearest LRT connection. 

It's about a 10-minute drive to reach the LRT, but residents of Bradley Estates and the adjacent Trailsedge development say it can take them nearly an hour by bus, which follows a meandering "milk run" across west Orléans. That's on a good day, if it's on time.

Getting to the nearest grocery store, only five kilometres away, can take just as long. That trip typically involves two buses and a walk of up to a kilometre. If they miss a connecting bus, it can take even longer.

A yellow sign posted on a metal gate in an empty cement lot reads 'Spaces temporarily closed while use of the Park & Ride is low.'
A notice posted at the Chapel Hill South park-and-ride in 2022 reads: 'Spaces temporarily closed while use of the Park & Ride is low.' The city councillor for the area calls the underused parking lot a 'white elephant.' (Reno Patry/CBC)

Residents say public transit options are scarce.

One regular bus route — the 34 — runs at 30-minute intervals, makes 48 stops and ends around 10 p.m. Another route runs six hours a day from the park-and-ride.

An express route runs only a handful of times during morning and afternoon peak hours and stops along Navan Road, which residents describe as "highly dangerous" for pedestrians as it has no sidewalks and is heavily used by large trucks travelling at high speeds.

A map displaying the approximate locations of two Orléans residences, the local Walmart, the Chapel Hill South Park-and-Ride and Blair Station.
This map shows the approximate locations of two Orléans residences, the local Walmart, the Chapel Hill South Park-and-Ride and Blair Station. (CBC)

CBC spoke with several residents who used words like "nightmare," "annoying" and "discouraging" to describe their daily commutes.

But it wasn't always like this.

For God's sake, we're the capital city of Canada.- Natalie Chan, resident

Residents say other more efficient routes were gutted in 2019 when OC Transpo made massive changes across the city as it prepared to welcome LRT. One beloved neighbourhood bus route, the 225, was scrapped during the pandemic. 

"[We] are faced with unconscionably bad transit service and clearly zero consideration by OC Transpo," wrote one resident in a survey conducted by the local community association in response to the route changes.

WATCH | Resident takes reporter on a trip to nearest grocery store: 

We timed her trip to the nearest grocery store. It took almost an hour

1 year ago
Duration 3:24
Natalie Chan takes two buses to reach the nearest grocery store — a Walmart in Orléans. She took CBC reporter Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang on her latest grocery run, which took just under an hour. According to Google it's an 8-minute drive.

Lost employment opportunities

Natalie Chan, who has spent the last six months searching for a job, said she's ruled out most of her options in west Ottawa because it would take her about two hours to get there using public transit.

Chan, who moved to the Trailsedge community just before the pandemic, said it's difficult to run errands with no car and no retailers in the immediate neighbourhood. 

"It just doesn't make sense what happened here," said Chan, comparing Ottawa's transit system to those in other cities where she's lived.

A woman stands in front of a Walmart sign.
Chan finally arrives at the Walmart grocery store in Orléans, just over four kilometres from her home in Trailsedge. It took her an hour by bus on this snowy Tuesday afternoon. (Georges-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC)

For Chan, the bus stop near her house is useless for a large chunk of the day because the route operates only during peak hours. She often walks about 15 minutes to the nearby park-and-ride to catch a different bus there.

"I feel trapped," Chan said. "It's really frustrating ... because for God's sake, we're the capital city of Canada."

'Tedious' trudge to school

For Erik Boyechko, it's about a three-hour round trip between his home in Bradley Estates and the University of Ottawa, where he studies five days a week.  

Without a driver's licence, Boyechko said the restrictive transit schedules often prevents him from socializing.

"I have to be careful. I can't spend too much time out downtown," he said.

From above, two white trains pass each other in the snow.
In this drone image, two light rail trains are seen passing each other near Blair station in November 2022. It can take 40 minutes up to an hour for residents in Bradley Estates and Trailsedge to reach the LRT station, which is only a 10-minute drive away. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Last week, despite careful planning, Boyechko was late for class when his local bus arrived behind schedule.

"Tedious, frustrating, unreliable," is how he described his current commute.

'Come on, OC, you can do better'

Anik Tracey began commuting to work a month ago, but she's already discussing other options with her husband, who will also soon start working downtown. 

"It really does feel like we're isolated," said Tracey. She sets out early each weekday morning to take advantage of faster routes, but her round trip commute can still take hours. Weekend options are even slimmer, she said.

"I don't even understand. We're so close to Blair," Tracey said. "There's got to be a way to make it more efficient for our community."

Tracey believes the city can and should provide a solution, whether it's rapid shuttles from the underutilized Chapel Hill South park-and-ride or better planning of existing routes. 

"Come on, OC, you can do better," she urged the city's public transit authority.

A woman crosses her arms outside in the snow.
Lucia Stefanescu lives in Bradley Estates, a subdivision in south-west Orléans. She says residents there have been 'completely forgotten' by the city and OC Transpo. (Georges-Etienne Nadon-Tessier/CBC)

Stefanescu used public transit last year when she didn't have a car.

She now drives to work in Gatineau, Que., because the same journey on public transit would take two hours and involve several transfers. Nevertheless, she said she's "angry" on behalf of her neighbours, some elderly, whose travel options are limited without a vehicle. 

"It's unacceptable," Stefanescu said.

What's the solution? 

Coun. Catherine Kitts agreed the city has failed her constituents when it comes to public transit in that area.

Kitts said OC Transpo told her ridership there is too low there to justify adding routes, while residents tell her current service levels are unreasonable and impractical.

"That's the chicken and the egg situation," said Kitts, who noted development applications "are coming fast and furious" in the area. "So you know, at some point in time we need to make a decision based on opportunity."

WATCH | Councillor on why city should care about south Orléans ridership

South Orléans commutes 'not reasonable,' councillor says

1 year ago
Duration 1:51
Orléans South-Navan councillor Catherine Kitts described a lack of transit service in her ward as a 'chicken and the egg' situation, where the city has told her ridership is too low to justify more routes there.

Kitts said she's advocating for reinstating the 225, which offered a more direct route to Blair station from the empty park-and-ride she calls "a white elephant."

"A lot of people in south Orléans, in Bradley Estates, they want to take transit," Kitts said. "They want that to be an attractive option for them."

A sign advertises new build homes on a residential street.
A sign advertises new homes in Trailsedge. Coun. Catherine Kitts says development applications 'are coming fast and furious' in this growing area, and wants the city to provide better public transportation to residents there. (Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang/CBC)

No new routes planned, city says

The city declined an interview, but wrote in an email late Tuesday afternoon that it doesn't have money set aside to reinstate suspended routes such as the 225. 

"No new routes are planned for this area this year," the email reads.

The city is looking at connecting route 228, which only runs three times each morning and afternoon along Navan Road, to the park-and-ride. OC Transpo also promises to add a bus shelter to the stop at Navan and Pagé roads this year to address some safety concerns raised by residents.

This year's transit budget, which needs to find $39 million to balance the books, will be hashed out at Thursday's transit commission meeting, where the public can also weigh in.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang

Reporter/Editor

Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang is a reporter with CBC News based in Ottawa. She's worked with the investigative unit, CBC Toronto, and CBC North in Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. She has a Master of Journalism from Carleton University. Want to contact her? Email priscilla.hwang@cbc.ca