Archive for March, 2011

Ottawa Transit Retrenches


It’s been a challenging year so far for OC Transpo, the transit authority for the Ontario portion of the national capital.  They were told by the new mayor that recent annual fare hikes that were four times the rate of increases in the cost of living — intended to get revenues up to 50% of all costs — would end with a ‘modest’ 2.5% increase during the next four years.  On average.  Tickets have been approved to go up a nickel a ticket (adults require two of these for a ride), or 4 percent, but the many passes would have increases closer to the target, staff seeing no need for pass prices to be rounded to the nearest nickel.

Governance of the authority also was changed, from a committee of Council, to a commission.  Although there are still nine councillors on it (one being the mayor), there are four citizens chosen by the councillors.  They were just named and approved last week, and now await Council approval.  I had submitted my name, but, like most of the other 170 applicants, didn’t even get an invite to an interview.  The final selection gave me a better idea of what they were looking for: three are lawyers and the other an MBA strategic planner.  Despite asking for bilingual capability, only one speaks French.  The media criticism in January that they should be from the parts of the city without representation was partially heard, as two are from central area, whose councillors showed no interest in sitting on the commission.  As to being transit users, one only is a regular user, while one lives beyond the service area.  Ho Hum.

But what is currently seizing the commission and its customers is the “route optimization” plan that is now in the approved budget, and is promised to save $18 million a year.  Only three examples of cuts were shown at budget time, but now the ugly details are on the table.  The principle is that 90 percent residents in the urban service area should live within a 5-minute walk of the closest stop for peak-hour service, and within a 10-minute walk of off-peak service.  Of course, walking speed is the same regardless of who is doing it and the weather conditions (-:}

These are walking distances only at residential end of trips, not those at the destinations ends, which are more than half (since a good many trips are from destination A to destination B, rather than always going directly home from the main destination).  There is also no sign that destinations are prioritized any more than users are.  This is unfortunate, since so many users are ‘captive’, the not-so-euphemistic term used in the ‘biz’ for those who don’t have cars.  I call them PED-CIVS: poor, elderly, disabled, children, ill/infirm, visitors, and ‘symplicists,’ the last being those who choose to live frugally and with small ‘footprints.’ Unlike their ‘choice’ counterparts, they use transit for more than getting to a job that doesn’t provide free parking.  That means getting to the basic convenience outlets — grocery, pharmacy, hardware, bank, library, laundromat — several times a week.  These trips are usually outside of peak hours.  So that means that these folks: a) are expected to walk further, b) get service that significantly less frequent, c) take trips that are significantly shorter (their site says the average is 10 kms), d) travel slower (the faster transitway is rarely used by their routes), and e) represent demand that doesn’t cost OC Transpo much, since buses are rarely full during off-peak.  My pitch to the commission for half-fares for seniors played up this point, suggesting that seniors cost the service less, and thus smaller fares were simple justice.

For instance, my wife and I, who are both elderly and simplicists and my wife is also a bit infirm (arthritic knees), purposely moved in 2006 from the Glebe, where we lived 300 feet from a stop on Bank Street for two routes, to Sandy Hill, within 200 feet of six routes (and 500 feet of a seventh), and the same distance from a double-car Vrtucar station.  That has worked fairly well for four and a half years, even though two years ago, a smaller ‘optimization’ plan cut in half the route we used to get to the Ottawa Hospital’s General campus, requiring a new transfer at the no-man’s land of Hurdman Station.

Now, the new changes will eliminate the only remaining two-bus alternative to reach the hospital.  The 16 will end at Main & Lees.  And the buses we use to get to the east and west along Rideau have been reduced by two: the 5 moving north to St. Patrick, which is a speedway with no commercial uses, and the elimination of the 306, one of the last ‘communi-buses’ that serves the two seniors residences on Porter Island near New Edinburgh.  Two of our seven routes is reduced to five (but one surviving one is rush-hour only, one of the rare ones that travel in both directions each peak period).

I have emailed fellow members of the Ottawa Seniors Transportation Committee inviting them to analyze the many changes from the view not only of conglomerations of seniors residences (although it is provincial policy to support “aging in place,” which translates to seniors staying in poorly-located-for-transit housing) but also the kinds of destinations seniors frequent, such as seniors activity centres (the largest, Good Companions, is served by a different communi-bus that is also being eliminated, and the one near us will lose members as it no longer will provide access by those living in Alta Vista.

I plan to attend all five of the open houses, in an effort to learn more about how people depend on the service and what grief the changes will cause them.  More later.



Cancer Survivorship, Clubhouse Style


I am about to end two years of finding inspirational and informative speakers for the monthly morning lectures at Abbottsford House in the Glebe, here in Ottawa.  I usually ask people I already know, but for February, I asked the head of the Ottawa Cancer Foundation, Linda Eagan, who is still far from becoming a senior.  She is a veteran of fundraising, and has been touched by cancer. I heard her talk at a Council on Aging Lunch-n-Learn last fall.

Ottawa is lucky to have been offered funds by the Bloch Foundation of the U.S.  who draws on the legacy of the H+R Block tax business, a grant to build a park to celebrate the successful efforts of those who survive cancer, now the majority.  They asked the Ottawa Cancer Foundation to find surplus land that had good visibility.  What they found was a triangle of land bordered by three arterial roads, one of them Alta Vista Drive, whose realignment 20-odd years ago created this land “orphan.”  It is  not far from the Ottawa Cancer Centre at the Ottawa Hospital.  It is an amazing place with inspiring architecture, lots of grass, and inspirational sayings to emphasize that cancer is now being survived by more people than succumb to it.

Linda and her board didn’t stop there.  They looked at their staid offices in leased quarters not far from downtown, midway between the two main campuses of the Cancer Centre, and at the 37 associations of survivors and families working disparately on increasing the survivor rate, and they realized that they wanted to build a building for their own offices, for the many sister organizations, and for the programs they all ran, or would run if they had the space.  [As I recounted here earlier this year, soon after actor Michael Douglas, announced his tumour at the base of his tongue (the same location as mine), I, too am a survivor.  Grateful but smart enough to know that I may not have seen the last of the disease, including for my family.]

Linda talked about the good luck of the foundation in finding two building lots in the 1960’s neighbourhood directly adjacent to the park, right off Alta Vista Drive.  They had been owned by the family of a couple who were about to dispose of them.  Someone in the Cancer-survivor network heard about them and asked the family to hold off for a few months to allow Linda and her volunteers to fashion a proposal that would fit the land.  The sellers saw the resulting plans and not only agreed to sell, but to not ask for a premium for what would be an larger institutional land use.

Although the building is not yet finished, Linda was able to describe to the assembled Abbottforders what their Cancer Survivorship Centre would be like.  She pointed out that the treatment program usually focuses, as it should, on the cancerous growth, and it leaves the patient often left without full understanding of what is going on, and not often supported in the various impacts on their families, work, and community responsibilities.  Linda talked about recruiting and training “navigators” to fill the gap.  She also wanted to have a wide array of resources, such as exercise equipment, written material, and lists of local and web-based resources to meet any need patients felt.  As an example, she mentioned the discussion she had with me about improving the walking link to the pathway system that flanks the nearby Rideau River via the main transitway station at Hurdman, to allow for clubhouse visitors to do long walks based on information from the house’s resources.  [Some patients might even consider walking to their treatment at the Centre from Hurdman (saving a bus transfer, since no direct bus link exists from downtown) through the park, and into the health campus’ northern side that has a large swatch of trees and a nice pathway linking the neighbourhood.]

What I found most exciting about her foundation’s work is the research they are supporting.  Dr. John Bell, now based in Ottawa, is recognized world-wide for his progress in research the possible existence of a virus that might attack abnormal cell growth that gets beyond the size that the body can successfully fight — without the toxic effects of chemo and radiation.  She explained to the audience, half of which are themselves cancer survivors, how early experiments with mice have proved to be very successful.  Clinical trials in Ottawa and other cities — first with “faint hope” patients — are being designed now.  Obviously, this disease has met its match in terms of donations from Ottawans to help lead a new promising route to finally putting this disease into the category of the diseases that once were so devastating: diptheria, whooping cough, and measles.

This is a remarkable development, since cancer is not a single disease, but 300, all involving aberrant cell growth.  But the research suggests that this special virus could attack all or most of them.

There is a downside to this research.  It, if successful, could be seen by those diagnosed with cancer as that “magic bullett,” reducing the need to follow the dual practices of early detection and healthful lifestyle practices.  I noticed how different cancer treatment I had received seven years ago was from the more recent treatment I received soon after I was disagnosed with Type II diabetes.  The former was passive, letting the doctors and technicians follow the course of treatment you had approved; while the latter was active, very dependent on my daily choices for eating, exercise, and avoiding stress.  It is therapeutic to be able to help with your own diagnosis and recovery.

It is nice to know that by frequenting the new ‘clubhouse,’ I will experience both.