So, the Airport folks are now on-board with the notion that
rapid transit to the airport is a good thing.
As an occasional airport user, and appreciating the importance that good transportation links make for a better local economy, I’m on board too.
But there are numerous pitfalls along the way, and sure footing is required to get a system to work. I sure don’t have the answers, but I do have some questions.
Note on the City’s TMP map below, the link to the airport is the short red horizontal line somewhere south of Hunt Club Road. It shows an intermediate stop too, for the Ernst Young Centre and nearby employment nodes that just might grow in the coming decades.
Making it a spur line, or bus shuttle, isn’t a fatal flaw. Some airports have main line trains right to the terminal. Others stop nearby, and shuttles are required. Even the trains that deliver the customer to the terminal may then require the user to shuttle to another terminal.
Nonetheless, a no-transfer routing is highly desirable. It makes marketing the city to visitors very easy. Terminal: train. That simple.
Of course, at the downtown end, air travellers will still have to transfer at Bayview, but then I don’t know how many are actually going to and from the downtown compared to from other areas of the city.
The transfer required at the downtown end will deter some convention traffic. At least until the OTrain is extended to Gatineau, specifically the Casino de Gatineau, and their convention centre and hotels. At that point, conventions to Hull will take off dramatically. Will Gatineau taxpayers be grateful for the free ride?
Ottawa is a pretty safe city, but travellers may well be anxious about their personal safety when arriving. The subway to JFK in NYC, or the L to OHare in Chicago, employ separate transit cars for air travellers, in an effort to keep travellers and their luggage united, and not lost in rush hour crowds.
How would a train to the terminal affect the rest of us, using the OTrain for daily use? If air passengers are mixed in with general transit users, then we have the No. 97 * bus route problem all over again, where the vehicles are crowded at rush hour, which makes taking them to the airport awkward; and the vehicles have no luggage racks. Daily transit users would find the airport-bound users a pain. And airport travellers wouldn’t like the on-board congestion.
Definitely not a recipe for a sure-fire success.
But to run a separate rail car to the airport would be wasteful for most daily transit runs, as it would be underutilized. Perhaps one car in each OTrain set could have a luggage rack? Or every half hour a special train would travel to the airport instead of Leitrim? (that of course, buggers up the frequency schedule of the regular OTrain train service).
If we assume that usage of the OTrain increases with proximity to the more built-up urban areas … and that there are fewer passengers at the farthest suburban ends of the route … then it is possible to postulate an OTrain route that has two destinations: some trains go to Leitrim or whatever the farthest suburban end is, and some go the airport.
The frequency of service beyond the airport split is of course now cut in half: so five minute frequency from Bayview to the split; and 10 minute frequency (ie, every second train) to the airport or Leitrim, depending on which train goes beyond the airport turn off.
I suspect the airport simply couldn’t attract enough users to justify half the trains using the airport as their destination. There are two work arounds to this: one is to ensure that the bus routes already required to distribute OTrain passengers to low-density suburbs beyond the airport have a second hub at the stop near the airport turnoff (probably at South Keys). So if someone bound for a neighbourhood in Riverside South found herself on an airport train, simply catch your local bus at South keys instead of Leitrim.
The other work around for the lower-ridership airport terminal OTrain leg, is to find a way to increase ridership on that leg. Over time, improved transit service may encourage more airport employees to use the train. New airport areas industries may also find the service of value in attracting employees.
More dramatically, the airport terminal end of the OTrain could be extended further west: from the airport terminal, a shallow tunnel under the main runway would bring the train to the Rideau River. A transit-only bridge ** would cross to the new RCMP HQ and the industrial areas there. Behind them, is Barrhaven and the main Fallowfield transit station. Possibly this additional traffic would ‘balance’ the two branches of the OTrain to the south of the city.
A link across the River to the new RCMP HQ might cut out a lot of car traffic that will otherwise be going to that building complex. And possibly spur the intensification of land uses in an area now dominated by parking lots and corn fields.
Do you feel you would take the train to the airport, with luggage, if you had to share the train with rush hour commuters? Would a shuttle at the airport end be a fatal flaw?
*The No 97, I see from the daily paper, is undercapacity and there’s lots of room for people to use it to go to the airport. I have no doubt it is lightly loaded at the airport end of its route. That would be an ideal bus – 3/4 empty, lots of room for my luggage – provided I lived south of Greenboro. But once the main line portion is reached, the bus is fuller, oftener. And unfortunately, if I go to the airport at rush hours (who would want to go there at such popular times? that;s when all the flights are !) I have my dragalong bag on the bus, as does my wife, or kids … going through the downtown,, through Ottawa U where every passenger has a backpack … hey, it’s crowded.
** For decades we have lived with an auto-centric TMP. Transit was expected to share expensive infrastructure like bridges. And bridges could not be built just for transit, but also had to have multiple car lanes, so we simultaneously encouraged car traffic while building transit infrastructure. Just like building the east-west LRT route today somehow requires expanding Queensway capacity for car commuters by 35-50%. A transit only bridge over the Rideau would, like cycling-only bridges in Ottawa and elsewhere, be game changers that favour transit and active transportation.
The tunnel under a runway would give conspiracy enthusiasts a focus for their terrorism worries. But I am confident that since runways all over the world have underpasses and sometimes overpasses, this could be resolved enough to satisfy the most paranoid security detail.