OC Transpo posts poor ridership figures

The transit system is struggling, and it could be years before it gets back on its feet. Plus what Bell layoffs mean for the city.

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Good morning!

We’ve got a whole bunch to get to today, so I won’t make you linger up here. We’ve got the latest on OC Transpo’s not great (but could be worse) ridership figures, big layoffs at Bell and how they’ll diminish news coverage in the city, and plenty of events.

Let’s get right to it.

— Robert Hiltz, managing editor

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Friday: +7 🌡️ +4 | 🌧

Saturday: +5 🌡️ -3 | 🌧

Sunday: +1 🌡️ -8 | 🌧/❄️

Monday: -1 🌡️ -8 | ☁️


Ridership millions below 2023 expectations


Robert Hiltz/Ottawa Lookout

What happened: We got confirmation OC Transpo’s troubles run deep. Ridership in 2023 on the transit service only recovered to two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels. Worryingly, LRT ridership sat at half of its 2019 ridership, while buses were at 70 percent for the year, according to a presentation at the transit commission.

The news comes as the transit agency announced this week 35 layoffs from administrative and management staff. The city doesn’t expect OC Transpo’s ridership to recover for about a decade, and is only hoping to hit 75 percent in the near-term.

Some good news: Despite the lack of a full recovery, there is some progress. Ridership increased 28 percent from last year to 64.3 million trips from 2022’s 50.3 million. But that’s nowhere near 2019’s 97.5 million. The actual 2023 figures are also 5.7 percent (3.9 million trips) below what was projected at the start of the year.

  • Some not so good news: The lack of fares means a lack of money. OC Transpo is projected to run a $50-million deficit this year.

Some other good news: Transit riders at Hurdman can expect a slightly better experience. The city has added several permanent shelters to the bus waiting areas, Coun. Shawn Menard tweeted. Several months ago they tore down temporary scaffolding to save costs. The station has a lengthy bus platform exposed to the sun, wind, and rain.

Here are some charts from the transit presentation that give a snapshot of the system’s performance last year:

City of Ottawa

City of Ottawa

City of Ottawa

211 helping folks feel less alone in a post-pandemic world

Did you know everyone in Ottawa has access to a 24-hour, 365 day-a-year support line that can help you navigate tough life situations? 

Whether you are looking for a nearby food bank, need help managing your finances, are seeking childcare, or want help understanding which employment resources are best for you, dialing 211 can connect you with local services that meet your needs.   

February 11 is 211 Day across North America. United Way East Ontario, a founding partner of 211, and Community Navigation of Eastern Ontario (CNEO) are raising awareness about this essential service, which is even more important as our communities face economic instability and high demand for social services. 

"Life is tough, and when you don't know where to turn to solve your problem or to get a solution, the easiest thing to do is just call 211,” says John Hoyles, Executive Director, Community Navigation of Eastern Ontario.   

The 211 helpline can be dialed Canada-wide or can be accessed online. It is our country’s primary source of information for government and community-based, non-clinical health and social services. 

Thanks to the support of our donors and partners, 211 is well equipped to provide increased support for people across East Ontario and beyond.  

The social effects of the pandemic still linger, causing additional strain for folks who now face rising costs of living with fewer resources to guide them.    

“United Way East Ontario’s goal is to make sure that vulnerable people have what they need, and our job is to get those vulnerable people connected to the help that they need,” says John. 

Dial 211 to connect with community, social, government and health services in your area. 


🚒 4: The number of pets who survived a house fire in Westboro. The three residents were able to escape, and two dogs exited the house before firefighters could arrive. Crews found and rescued the two cats in the home. [CTV]

😔 52: This many jobs will be lost when the tool and die shop Rose Integration in Carleton Place closes in the coming months. [CTV]


Bell ups dividend payout to shareholders, cuts 9% of workforce

What happened: BCE Inc., the corporate name of Bell, is cutting about nine percent of its workforce and selling off nearly half of its radio stations at the same time it’s increasing its cash payouts to shareholders, The Canadian Press reported. It will be cutting about 4,800 jobs across the company. 

Radio sell-off: Four stations in the region — two in Brockville, and two in Kingston — are among the company’s holdings sold off. The company said it no longer saw operating radio stations as viable, signalling more cuts are likely in the future.

  • “That’s a significant divestiture. It’s because it’s not a viable business anymore.… We will continue to operate ones that are viable, but this is a business that is going in the wrong direction,” Bell’s chief legal and regulatory officer, Robert Malcolmson, said.

Bell operates six stations in Ottawa and Gatineau, according to its website: 580 CFRA, TSN 1200, Pure Country 94 FM, Rouge FM 94.9, Move 100.3 FM, and Énergie 104.1 FM.

Media cuts: Less than 10 percent of the cuts are coming to the Bell Media division of the company, according to CP. With the cancellation of many premier news programs, including the long running investigative show W5, the company will also be cutting a number of its news network programs, and “streamlining” BNN Bloomberg broadcasts to have fewer shows.

Local effects: CTV Ottawa’s noon TV news broadcast will come to an end. Bell said in an internal memo that all noon broadcasts would end, except for in Toronto, the Toronto Star reported. Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto are the only cities that will keep their local weekend news broadcasts, every other CTV station will lose them.

Political blowback: Federal Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge called out the government for the cuts, CBC reported. The minister said the company was allowed to acquire other companies under the promise they would continue to be stewards of those outlets.“Today, they backed away from that promise,” she said.

  • “They're still making billions of dollars. They're still a very profitable company and they still have the capacity and the means to hold up their end of the bargain, which is to deliver news reports,” St-Onge said, according to CBC.

Out in BC, Premier Dave Eby went even further, taking the company to task, calling them “corporate vampires” for first amassing a huge catalogue of local news outlets, then whittling them away, bit by bit.

Healthy company: Bell decided to increase its dividend to shareholders by 3.1 percent to $3.99 per share. Revenue, meanwhile, increased to $6.47 billion from $6.44 billion in the last quarter. The company said profits dropped 23 percent year-over-year, as the company brought in only $435 million in net income last quarter, according to The Globe and Mail. The company hopes to save between $200 and $300 million in 2024 thanks to the cuts it has made.


📖 A series of changes to the Ontario school curriculum will come into effect this fall. The changes will mean new business classes, the de-streaming of more classes like geography, a requirement to complete at least one technical class, and more. [CTV]

🏢 City council approved the final two towers of a three-tower development on Baseline Road next to the Experimental Farm. The federal government had objected to the towers because the shadows the 32- and 24-storey buildings will cast could affect the data collected through the growing season on the field. [Ottawa Citizen]

🚧 Homeowners in Kanata might be out tens of thousands of dollars in extra mortgage costs as their move in date to their new homes in a Minto subdivision keeps being pushed back. One homeowner said she was facing an extra $1,000 a month because her mortgage deal will expire because of delays of the developer finishing and registering the houses with the city. [CTV]

🪵 The Chateau Montebello is among the properties that will be sold off by the collapsing China Evergrande Group. The 300 employees of the resort are expected to keep their jobs. [CBC]

🏨 Hundreds of families in the city are being housed in hotels and motels by the city because of the critical lack of affordable housing in Ottawa. The family shelter system is at 330 percent capacity, so the city has to make other arrangements costing about $13.5 million a year. [CTV]

☢️ A group of concerned citizens has launched a Federal Court challenge of the permit allowing the construction of a nuclear waste facility in Chalk River, just a kilometre from the Ottawa River. They want the permit quashed and a new location found for the waste dump. [CTV]

🚨 After 17 overdose calls in the span of 24 hours, the city of Bellville declared a state of emergency. The town’s mayor asked for help from other levels of government to deal with the “growing addiction, mental health and homelessness crisis.” [CTV] 


What to do this weekend

🥯 Ottawa Bagel Shop Storytime, Sunday 2 pm: A new weekly author series, where local writers come out for a chat. This week is David McGee, writer of the Lost Ottawa series of historical books about the city’s past. At the Ottawa Bagelshop, 1321 Wellington St. W. Free admission.

🎨 Art Battle Ottawa, Friday 7 pm: Artists compete against each other in 20-minute rounds to create instant masterpieces, until one is crowned the winner. At Overflow Brewing Co., 2477 Kaladar Ave. Tickets $24.

🎼 Pops Concert 2024, Friday 8 pm: A night of popular music from Ellington to Bizet, hosted by the Divertimento Orchestra. At Woodroffe United Church, Friday 8 pm. Tickets $20.

🎷 A Step Back to Supper Clubs & Swing, Saturday 6 pm: A night of jazz music and swing dancing, like the supper clubs of old. All proceeds going to Dress for Success Ottawa National Capital Region, and Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride Ottawa. At the NDHQ Warrant Officers' & Sergeants' Mess, 4 Queen Elizabeth Driveway. Tickets $134.

🎻 POpera, Saturday 7:30 pm: A night of opera with all the classics, including pieces by Mozart, Verdi, and more. At the Parkdale United Church, 429 Parkdale Ave. Tickets $23.

☕️ Intro to Latte Art & Milk Based Coffee, Sunday 11:30 am: Hosted in conjunction with Little Victories Coffee, learn the basics of how to turn your daily coffee into an art form. At C.A. Paradis, 1314 Bank St. Tickets $102.

🪚 Tinkering School - Build a Wooden Airplane, Saturday 2 pm: An opportunity for kids aged 9-13 to learn how to use tools in the woodshop under close supervision. Build and paint a wooden airplane, and then take it home. All materials provided. At the Ottawa Tool Library, 877a Boyd Ave. Tickets start at $97.

☃️ Winterlude, until Feb. 19: The city’s winter festival kicks off today. With plenty of indoor and outdoor activities all across the region. Public art, family fun, and more. Most events are free.

❄️ Pibòn (Winter) Festival - Winterlude Edition, until Feb. 19: A wide range of Indigenous activities for the winter festival. Various locations. Some events ticketed.

🎬 Unxpected Movie Premiere Ottawa - Black History Month Movie Pick, Saturday 2:30 pm: The local premier of the Nigerian film Unxpected. Laughs, suspense, and more abound in this film. At the Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank St. Tickets $33.


This week in food

🏆 The Canadian Culinary Championship was held last weekend in town, and our food editor was there to try all the dishes as a BC chef was crowned the country’s best. 

🍷 (Insiders) Check out this Niagara red for a great value-priced bottle from a legacy vineyard putting out quality wines.

🇫🇷 (Insiders) It’s the simple things that make the Metropolitain great. Like their French onion soup. Simple, and well-executed.

  • Despite being so close to the Ottawa River, Winterlude makes ample use of drinking water, here’s why. [CBC]

  • Oof, the warm weather means the Canal is still closed. [CTV]

  • You guessed it, it’s a beautiful sunset. [Reddit]

  • Check your fridge! Multiple brands of “Mexican style street corn” salad have been recalled over listeria concerns. [CTV]

  • Is this your dog? The lost pup was found at the corner of Somerset and Upper Lorne.

  • A Cornwall company is putting a new spin on the greenhouse, allowing for year-round, 24/7 produce cultivation. [CTV]

  • Want to have your announcement featured? Learn how here.


Congrats to Janet, Adam, Kevin, Sandra, Joshua, and the many others of you who knew that this week’s Ottawa Guesser was of the eastbound 417 onramp at Parkdale. Well done!

Think you can solve this week’s Ottawa Wordle? Play now.