Online Executive Summary:
Ottawa: Transit Productivity and
Bus Rapid Transit Special Report No. 8
Leroy W. Demery, Jr. • Michael D. Setty • July 1, 2005
Copyright 2005-2009
We have produced this Online Executive Summary to our Special Report No. 8, Ottawa: Transit Productivity and Bus Rapid Transit, to permit readers to quickly find their way to sections of interest. The links below lead to pages with additional information, tables and charts.
Abstract of Special Report No. 8
Ottawa, Canada’s capital, has the most extensive bus rapid transit (BRT) services in North America. The core "Transitway" network includes busways, reserved lanes and mixed traffic operation totalling 46.3 km (28.7 mi), opened in stages from 1983. Most performance indicators revealed significant negative trends as transitway service expanded. Ridership did not grow as anticipated prior to construction. Ridership declined during 1984-1997 despite increasing population and employment; ridership per-capita fell by half. The previous doubling of ridership during 1971-1984 was not sustainable absent major productivity gains: bus-km per capita tripled, inflation-adjusted operating expense per capita increased 2.5 times, and the revenue : cost ratio fell from 98 to 60 percent. Productivity did not increase as transitway service expanded. Real wage rates remained stable during 1982-2002 but operating cost per revenue service hour rose by nearly 60 percent. Maintenance costs, fuel consumption, non-revenue ("deadhead") km and road calls all increased while labor utilization became less efficient. Available data suggest, but merely suggest, a sharp increase in customer complaints coinciding with a period of decreasing service reliability and declining ridership. However, the undertaking managed to improve service effectiveness and so moderated the negative trends in cost-effectiveness. The 1984-1997 ridership decrease is unfortunate but less troubling than productivity declines during the same period. These suggest "inherent" or "structural" inefficiencies associated with Ottawa’s transitway program. The implied annual cost is (2002 CAD) 65 million (2002 USD 42 million) based on 2002 service levels; the implied cumulative cost during 1982-2002 is (2002 CAD) 1,360 million (2002 USD 865 million). Additional research is indicated to identify underlying causal factors and possible counter-strategies.
Introduction to Special Report No. 8
The introduction to our Special Report No. 8 is here.
We provide a brief outline and overview of Ottawa transit, and Ottawa Transitways, as of 2005.
We note that plans for expansion of the pilot "O-Train" service into a full-scale light rail transit (LRT) line became the major issue in the 2006 municipal election. Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli, long the principal advocate for LRT in Ottawa, was defeated on November 13, 2006 by businessman Larry O’Brien. The "North-South" LRT project was cancelled shortly thereafter, but transit planning continued.
The Transportation Master Plan approved by the Ottawa City Council at the end of November 2008 includes conversion of the principal east-west Transitway axis between Blair and Baseline stations to LRT, construction of a tunnel beneath the business center, and conversion of the O-Train line to electric LRT. The total planned LRT system length is 40 km (25 mi). The priority segment LRT segment extends between Blair and Tunney’s Pasture stations, and includes the downtown tunnel (described by planning documents as extending between the University of Ottawa and Booth Street).
The transportation improvements, which also include "bus rapid transit," surface transit and road projects, are planned for construction in four phases with completion by 2031. Total cost was stated at (2007 CAD) 4.7 billion (2007 USD 4.0 billion).
Analysis Details
We selected the last "no-transitway" year, 1982, as the baseline, and examined data at five-year intervals to 2002 to explore "short-term" and "long-term" trends. We avoided changes to terminology used in tables published by OC Transpo, Ottawa’s transit operator, for reasons of style (e.g. we retained "Rider km" rather than change to "Passenger-km"). We reworded a small number of data table headings for clarity.
"Rider," as used by OC Transpo, refers consistently to "revenue passengers" (or "linked trips") in accordance with Canadian practice. For this reason, Ottawa  passenger statistics and derived performance indicators (e.g. operating cost per "passenger") are not compatible with U.S. National Transit Database (NTD) passenger statistics and derived performance indicators (e.g. operating cost per "boarding").
Conversions to U.S. dollars (USD) should be interpreted with care. Operating cost comparisons between Canadian and U.S. transit operators can be misleading because of differences in wage levels, which are higher in the U.S.
Per-Capita Performance Indicators
OC Transpo increased service nearly threefold from 1972 to 1982. Ridership increased by more than 75 percent, while the number of peak riders per capita increased by 42 percent. However, inflation-adjusted total operating cost per capita more than doubled. The change in "revenue : cost ratio" during this period, from 98 to 60 percent, suggests that absent major increases in productivity, the 1972-1982 trends were not sustainable. For additional details, see here:
Ridership Indicators
Annual "revenue riders" (or "linked trips") fell after 1984, and this overall downward trend was not reversed until 1998. The number of weekday peak period riders increased to 1985, remained relatively static to 1989, then declined to 1997. Transfers per revenue passenger increased significantly from 1972 to 1982 but remained stable thereafter.
We used "annual customer contacts per million revenue passengers" as a surrogate indicator of customer satisfaction. Increases coincide to some degree with transitway expansion from 1982 to 1997. This is not surprising; transit service changes generate complaints even when overall customer satisfaction improves. However, a prolonged trend of increasing complaints might indicate decreased customer satisfaction - sufficient to discourage patronage.
Customer contacts increased by 70 percent during 1985-1989. This coincided with a sharp increase in "road calls," and the initial period of ridership decline post-1984.
For additional details, see here:
Cost Effectiveness and Cost Recovery
OC Transpo experienced sharp increases in unit operating costs - per revenue rider, per boarding, and per rider-km - as successive Transitway segments were opened from 1982. OC Transpo managed to reverse this trend after 1992. However, in inflation-adjusted terms, these unit operating cost remained 6-15 percent higher at 2002 than at 1992. Management increased inflation-adjusted fares (per passenger and per km) in proportion with these operating-cost increases. One result: the cost-recovery (revenue : cost) ratio remained quite stable during this period, within the range of 55-60 percent. For additional details, see here:
Cost Efficiency
OC Transpo experienced sharp declines in cost efficiency after 1982 - again, as successive Transitway segments were opened - as illustrated by several key performance indicators: operating cost per revenue hour, per vehicle-km, per scheduled peak-period bus, per platform hour, and, in addition, "overhead" ("semi-fixed cost per platform hour"). These trends cannot be attributed to increases in "labor costs." OC Transpo managed to hold long-term (1982-2002) increases in inflation-adjusted unit labor costs to about one percent annually. However, the "cost" of doing so included a 24-day strike at the end of 1996. For additional details, see here:
Maintenance Cost
Unit service and maintenance cost increased sharply from 1982, as the Transitway system expanded. The inflation-adjusted "average annual" rate of increase 1982 to 1997 was about 2.7 percent, or about 2.3 percent accounting for relative vehicle size. OC Transpo did not explain this unfavorable trend, but, apparently, brought it under control after 1997. For additional details, see here:
Staff Productivity
Annual revenue hours per employee and annual revenue km per employee all declined from 1982 to 1997, as the Transitway system was opened. In addition the number of employees per scheduled peak vehicle increased during the same interval. The long-term productivity losses are clear, but some degree of stabilization and reversal was accomplished from the early 1990s. The number of annual riders per employee decreased during 1982-1997. By contrast, annual rider-km per employee increased somewhat during 1982-1987, then fell to 1997. Again, OC Transpo did not explain these unfavorable trends, but, apparently, brought them under control after 1997. For additional details, see here:
Service Effectiveness
In spite of various negative trends, the OC Transpo management was able to increase service productivity in terms of riders per hour, and rider-km per revenue-km. This was accomplished by route consolidation and schedule changes. The operator held the levels of "consumption-side" unit cost escalation below the levels of "supply-side" unit cost escalation experienced during 1982-2002. In other words, OC Transpo avoided long-term decreases in cost effectiveness, in spite of declining ridership, decreasing cost efficiency and decreasing productivity. For additional details, see here:
“Peak-to-Base” Ratio
Vehicle fleet size is the principal factor that determines fixed ("overhead") costs for bus transit systems, because vehicle fleet size determines the size of operating bases, maintenance facilities and so forth. The "peak-to-base" ratio - the number of buses scheduled for peak service, divided by the number scheduled for midday ("off-peak" or "base") service - is an important indicator of traffic patterns and cost efficiency. A high peak-to-base ratio is a historic characteristic of Ottawa transit services. OC Transpo’s peak-to-base ratio increased significantly during 1982-1997, as the Transitway system expanded. This implies significant upward pressure on "overhead" cost per unit of service. For additional details, see here:
Operator (Driver) Pay Rates and Productivity Indicators
We emphasize that the sharp increase in unit operating costs experienced by OC Transpo from 1992 cannot be attributed to labor cost increases. Adjusted for inflation, the top wage rate paid by OC Transpo remained remarkably stable during 1982-2002. However, "platform hours per pay hour" declined gradually, perhaps reflecting changes in work rules favorable to employees - or less-efficient utilization of labor by management. For additional details, see here::
Utilization of Labor: “Speed Made Good”
We have emphasized - repeatedly - our belief that the number of potential applications for improved bus services and "bus rapid transit" (BRT) in the the U.S. and Canada is much greater than for rail transit. However, the trends documented in this and following sections suggest underlying "structural" (or "inherent") inefficiencies associated with expansion of Ottawa’s transitway network. The fundamental cause or causes are not clear. Nor is it clear whether these inefficiencies are characteristic "in general" of high-volume BRT as a mode, within the context of a developed economy, or are unique to Ottawa.
"Speed Made Good" is OC Transpo’s term for the ratio of vehicle km per platform hour. Prior to starting construction, OC Transpo anticipated that Transitways would provide “higher speed,” and this would lead to "lower costs." However, despite visible increases in commercial (passenger) speed, the transitways did not facilitate large increases in bus km per platform hour. In other words, OC Transpo was not able to substantially increase the efficiency of labor utilization as the Transitway network expanded - and therefore did not obtain one of two major cost benefits anticipated as the result of Transitway development. For additional details, see here:
Utilization of Vehicles: Annual km per Peak Vehicle
Prior to starting construction, OC Transpo anticipated that the Transitway system would permit increases in annual km per vehicle. This in turn would permit operation of service with a smaller fleet size than would be required without the Transitways. However, no significant increase in annual km per peak vehicle took place during 1982-2002, as the Transitway system was opened. OC Transpo therefore did not obtain the second of two major cost benefits anticipated prior to Transitway construction. For additional details, see here:
Energy Efficiency
OC Transpo experienced sharp increases in fuel consumption, per km and per hour, as the Transiway system was opened and expanded. Fuel consumption per passeger-km also increased during 1982-2002. These trends have not been explained by the operator; the obvious need to do so should be clear at mid-2008. We believe that the principal underlying factors are: increased in non-revenue ("deadhead" km), increased energy consumption as the result of higher "cruise speed" between stops, and increased use of articulated buses. For additional details, see here:
“Deadheading:” Revenue and Non-Revenue Vehicle-km
In transit jargon, "deadheading" refers to non-revenue operation of vehicles, e.g. to and from garages, and also various "positioning" movements during the service day when passengers are not carried. Although OC Transpo’s ratio of revenue km to total (vehicle( km remained relatively static during 1982-2002, the absolute number of non-revenue km increased significantly, at about one percent per year. For additional details, see here:
Annual Vehicle-km Per Maintenance Employee
The number of annual vehicle-km per maintenance employee obtained by OC Transpo declined during 1982-1997. This cannot be attributed entirely to increases in average fleet age. Maintenance productivity declined significantly during 1982-1987, when the average active fleet age remained relatively stable. For additional details, see here:
Service Hours and km per Road Call
OC Transpo experienced a sharp increase in the incidence of road calls from the early 1980s. This in turn implies a sharp increase in the incidence of road failures. The incidence of road falls stabilized at a much higher rate during 1987-2002 than during previous years - before the Transitway system was opened.
Although data are scarce, anecdotal reports from other cities suggest an association of high operating costs with operation of motorbuses in a manner that mimics "typical" (U.S.) LRT service patterns: relatively high cruise speeds (e.g. 70-90 km/h (45-55 mph)) and frequent acceleration cycles (e.g. stops spaced every 2-3 km (1-2 mi)). We believe that additional research is clearly indicated. For additional details, see here:
The number of traffic accidents per million bus-km, and traffic accidents per operator (driver) all declined during 1982-2002. However, the number of accidents per million riders increased to 1997, then declined thereafter. The number of accidents per million passenger-km also increased to 1997, but not to the same degree, and declined thereafter. For additional details, see here:
Standard and Articulated Buses
Articulated buses utilize labor more efficiently than standard buses because of larger vehicle size, and so achieve greater productivity. However, they also cost more to operate because of greater fuel consumption and higher maintenance cost. Articulated buses cost about 25 percent more to operate per revenue hour than standard (rigid-frame) buses. This fact is relevant to analysis of productivity and efficiency. Articulated buses made up less than three percent of OC Transpo’s total active fleet at 1982. This increased to more than 19 percent at 1992, then declined slightly to 2002. On-site observations at 1992 and 2000 suggest that OC Transpo reduced its peak-period use of articulated buses during this interval. For additional details, see here:
The “Legend” of 10,000 Per Hour
OC Transpo claims that its Transitway system carries peak-period passenger volumes of 10,000 passengers per hour per direction (phd). This figure has been quoted widely from the mid-1980s. However, independent verification is lacking. We conclude that passenger volumes of 10,000 phd do not occur - and have not occurred from the time of opening - at any point along the Ottawa Transitway system.
We conclude that the claimed "10,000 phd" is based on observations during intervals less than 60 minutes, scaled to a uniform hourly rate. Passenger "flows" in the range of 700 - 900 per five-minute interval do occur along Ottawa’s transitways, and at multiple locations. But these are not sustained during any 60-minute interval. The ”actual” maximum volumes fall in the range of 3,000 - 5,000 phd. OC Transpo has not explained how the claimed "volume" of 10,000 phd is or was measured - as requested, and promised. For additional details, see our Special Report 8.1:
We summarize our findings here:
The list of references we consulted is here:
OC Transpo Operating Data - 1982-2002
The operating data for 1982-2002 that we used, compiled by OC Transpo, are here:
OC Transpo Performance Measures - 1982-2002
The performance measures for 1982-2002 that we used, calculated by OC Transpo, are here:
Conversion Factors
The conversion factors we used are below:
Canadian Consumer Price Index (Statistics Canada):
All Items (1992 = 100)
2002 exchange rate (”annual average”): 1.57 CAD = 1.00 USD (Bank of Canada).
100 kilometres = 62 miles.
3.785 litres = 1 U.S. gallon.
The similarity between unit costs expressed as CAD per km and USD per mi in the tables above is coincidental. The 2002 “annual average” exchange rate of USD 0.64 per CAD fell very close to the conversion factor 0.62 miles per km.