Yes Alanis, it was ironic.
I spent much of my day on Wednesday listening to Ottawa transit commissioners try to figure out how raising bus fares would hurt the users’ pocketbook and the bigger concern that deeper hikes would put transit financially out of reach for many low-income transit users – the people who really need it and use it.
And in the early evening, doing errands in Barrhaven, I saw a double decker bus drive by on my street – appearing to be empty. Now I can’t swear there weren’t any passengers on board, I can only say I didn’t see anyone. And therein lies just one of the many problems with the city’s budget process. It’s really all about dollars and not about sense.
If dollars are short, and we know they are, shouldn’t we at least be looking at the services the city provides and trying to figure out if there are more efficient ways of delivering those said services and maybe even (cover your ears) cutting some things to deliver services that might be more urgent in nature?
I can’t be the only one who wonders why a double decker bus is roaming the sleepy streets of suburban Barrhaven appearing empty when transit is in a deficit situation? But instead of talking about ways to save money before budget deliberations, council is now headed to approve a bus fare hike that some city councillors worry will see an even bigger drop in ridership.
There’s no city council sessions where there’s any sort of meaningful discussion about priorities for the city, no building any sense of camaraderie among this very divided group of councillors.
Essentially Mayor Jim Watson, along with some help from the city’s senior staff, determines what the overall tax increase will be and what the priorities. This year the tax increase is set at 3%.
So when the city sets out to meet committee by committee on how our money will be spent, the decisions are pretty much already made and rubber stamped by Watson.
When a councillor looks for changes in the budget, it’s essentially up to them to find the money from within the city budget – and convince a majority of councillors to agree to the change. With this council, this just doesn’t happen. The majority of councillors don’t cross Watson, they prefer the odd goodie being thrown their way – and the mayor’s support during election time.
It happened earlier this week at the transit commission budget meeting when Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney and transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert were both concerned how any bus fare increase at all would hurt those that can least afford it but need public transit desperately. “One of the stated purposes of this commission is to increase transit ridership in this city, yet this fare increase will do the exact opposite of that,” said Wright-Gilbert, a civilian member on the commission. “Raising fares in this context is bad enough, but add to it the fact that we are in the worst pandemic the world has seen since the Spanish Flu in 1918 and in my view, it’s morally wrong to increase fares.”
Their concerns fell on deaf ears, which you could have bet the house on.
It’s all so depressing. And it all actually makes me long for the messy days when former mayor Larry O’Brien was at the helm. Yes he was new and he had little idea at the start about building a consensus.
But those weaknesses in fact lead to actual democracy being at play at Ottawa City Hall. Imagine. Councillors to represent their wards and the entire city. Yes, it was a bit of a mess, but take that any over what we have now.
And while my mind might be playing tricks on me during these crazy times, if O’Brien hadn’t had to go through the court system, he could well have made a great Ottawa mayor.