Greyhounded out of downtown Ottawa

Last week, Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien made a rather bizzare, out-of-left-field proposal: to move Ottawa’s current Greyhound terminal from it’s current Catherine Street location, to out by the VIA Rail station on Tremblay Road.

Naturally, this was met with some protest. While the current intercity bus terminal is far from the nicest facility in the world (it’s probably about five years overdue for a big renovation), it’s certainly well-located. It’s downtown, served by several major OC Transpo routes (including the 101, which is considered to be rapid transit), and is close to the 417. It’s not perfect, as it could probably stand to be a bit closer to the CBD, and perhaps have better non-peak transit service, but it’s still within walking distance for residents of Centretown, the Golden Triangle, the Glebe, Chinatown, and so on. Additionally, the central location leaves it fairly equidistant (or at least as much as that’s possible) from Ottawa’s various suburbs.

The train station, on the other hand? Well, it’s pretty suburban—if you’ve ever tried to walk there, you know that the area makes pedestrians feel like a very distant afterthought. I think the only people that would be able to walk there would be residents of a small residential area a few hundred metres west of the station. Certainly far fewer people than the tens of thousands in and around the downtown core. And sure, the Transitway runs right by it, but, speaking from experience, it’s much more of a pain to jam yourself on a crowded 95 with luggage than it is a 4 making its way down Bank Street.

The other question I have about this proposal is where would you put the new bus terminal? Let’s take a look at both, courtesy of Google Maps.

The Ottawa Train Station. Image is approximately 500 metres across, for reference.

Ottawa bus terminal, to the same scale.

While it’s pretty plain that the bus terminal takes up a much smaller footprint, it’s not exactly a small facility. It takes up an entire city block, and even as it is, it can get pretty crowded—I’m sure Greyhound would love to have something larger were they to build a new terminal. But if you look at the train station image, there’s not much room for anything even the same size as the current terminal, let alone anything larger. There’s an area between Tremblay at the station’s access road, but that would involve getting rid of green space and a bike path, as well as potentially conflicting with the reconstruction of the Transitway for light rail. One of the station’s parking lots could be removed, I suppose, but I doubt VIA would like that much, and neither takes up anywhere near as much space as the current bus terminal.

Overall, moving Ottawa’s intercity bus terminal to this location makes little sense. How many people even transfer between VIA and Greyhound? I’d be curious to see the numbers, should they even exist. Not only does this proposal increase sprawl by decentralizing a major transportation service, but I’m not sure it would do anything to improve intercity transit service or convienience in Ottawa. Leave well enough alone, Mayor O’Brien, and keep bus service in the downtown core.

12 Responses to “Greyhounded out of downtown Ottawa”

  1. March 29, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Wouldn’t it be nice, though, for all the people who transfer from inter-city trains to inter-city buses? (all, what, dozens of them?). They could build it in place of all that ghastly greenspace.

    I think I heard that the bus companies do have some space at the train terminal building already, but I don’t know the details.

    • 2 David McClelland
      March 29, 2010 at 2:43 pm

      I’ve seen airport buses, with Swiss Air and Air France logos, loading and unloading in the passenger drop-off area. That’s the only major coach traffic I’ve seen at the train station, though

  2. March 29, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I don’t understand the logic of exiling the bus terminal like that either. And exile is what it looks intended to be at this point to my eyes. Bad enough the train service got moved out of the downtown.

  3. 4 Heather
    March 29, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Seriously – keep it central, Larry.

    Do other cities have intercity transit hubs, I wonder? It seems silly as I can’t imagine ever needing to transfer between the bus and train.

  4. 5 David James
    March 30, 2010 at 10:55 am

    It’s a good idea to co-locate them because that opens up all sorts of opportunities. Take people who travel out by one mode and return by another (think of a round trip rather than a there-and-back trip). Or people from more distant rural areas who wish to take a train for the last part of the trip (say, Maniwaki to Toronto). It’s also likely that we’ll have commuter rail services in the not-too-distant future to supplement the commuter buses that already operate. These latter won’t be able to easily go downtown post-conversion, so they’ll need a transfer point to the LRT system, and what better place than the train station from which the commuter trains will depart as well? This makes off-peak service more viable, so someone might arrive by rail in the morning but take an early or late bus home in the evening – without having to worry about where to go to get their connection. Co-locating also increases the potential for the economic viability of supporting land uses like hotels and restaurants.

    • 6 David McClelland
      March 30, 2010 at 11:15 am

      Here’s the rub, though: how many people actually travel by train for one leg of a trip and by bus for another? Especially in Ottawa? If you look at Greyhound’s service map (http://www.greyhound.ca/en/locations/routemap.shtml) you can see that Ottawa really isn’t a logical place to transfer between the two—so far as I can tell, the only area served by Greyhound exclusively from Ottawa and not by VIA is the Outaouais. While it might make sense in Toronto or Montreal, I really can’t see the need for it here.

  5. 7 Dave Ott
    April 6, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Having a station with bus and rail works well in both Vancouver and Seattle. Pacific Station in Vancouver in not within easy walking distance of downtown, but it is right next to a Skytrain station and as a result is quite convenient. In Seattle the bus/train station is downtown and near many major transit routes. Amtrak operates both buses and trains from the station and even transfers travellers between the two modes depending on the trip they are taking. Perhaps there are unique reasons why this would not work in Ottawa, but co-locating the bus and train is far from being a crazy idea.

  6. 8 Tom
    April 12, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    I wonder if this decision might have something to do with the bus station’s immediate proximity to Glashan Middle School?

  7. 10 orginger
    April 14, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Hmm – what an introduction! I just found your blog and have to admit, this debate will have me subscribing.

    I appreciate your point of view although it leaves me wondering if any of you have ever been frequent users of the train or the bus. When I was a student in Montreal, I actually lived and worked here in Ottawa. I was on a tight budget and without a car; I relied strongly on the bus/train system. I studied and met my husband there (it was a crazy time!) – all in all, I would say we were frequent users (weekly) of both systems for over four years (seriously!).

    I’ll start by saying that there are a lot of things in your post that I bring a different perspective to, I’ll try to break it down logically.

    First, to address some of the questions people asked:

    Do people switch between the two? Yes, the bus reaches a much broader network of communities but this can turn into a bit of a milk run. Often, people will catch a bus to a major center and then commute via train to the next major center. For business traffic, Ottawa is often a final destination – but for people travelling to and from Northern Ontario, it is a hub.

    Second, to address the assumption that the train station is not as accessible as the bus station:

    To this, I would have to ask – in what way? Do you mean it is a longer walk? Of course it is – I don’t think anyone would want to walk from downtown to the train station. That said people without cars can easily take the bus. As someone who has taken the train numerous times, all at peak periods (I love arriving at 8am and leaving at 5pm), I never had a problem with my luggage. Although the public bus might have been crowded, it would have been equally crowded to the bus station. At least if you are arriving at the train station, access is covered and well-lit. As a young woman, I always felt safe at the train station and I never had to struggle with multiple bags while stepping out into the elements (contrary to arriving at the bus station).

    With this debate, there also seems to be the implied assumption that the bus station is easy and convenient to get to in its current location. I think that is a false assumption – first, it isn’t a pleasant walk to the bus station. It isn’t convenient from the majority of hotels or from the major business centers in Ottawa. In my opinion, people traveling by bus would probably still take additional local transit or taxi to their final destination within the city…plus, it’s on a one way street. Have you ever tried to navigate to or from this station during rush hour? It is located close to the Queensway but at peak times of the day, that part of the highway is at a crawl pace. Imagine how many potential users are turned off from the bus because of this – it can add extensive time on to your travel and result in your schedule being somewhat unpredictable (thus making flying/train/renting a car more desirable). Did you know that the bus often allows people to choose other destinations within Ottawa before arriving at the main station? Did you know that a significant number of people exit the bus prior to arriving at the station? I think this speaks to the convenience of the station – people are exiting in advance because it is easier for them to commute home from a different location (and yes, it drops people of at St.Laurent Mall – right beside the train station).

    Maybe I never gave walking to the bus station a fair shake – as you pointed out it is terribly convenient for people that live in Centertown and I used to live on Bank Street, literally just blocks away from the station. To be honest, I just found it really terrible for the time of year I wanted to travel (fall, winter, and spring). It was a struggle with all of my crap – and add the elements in there, it got downright gross (and have you ever tried to use the buses that service that station? Totally inconvenient and really inconsistent on service delivery).

    Here are some things you might want to consider:

    First, who are the people using these services?

    I found that most of the people using the bus/train were regular users. A co-system would be of huge benefit for this group – when the train isn’t working for whatever reason, clients can then take the bus without a huge inconvenience. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve arrived at either station and just missed my train/bus. Imagine the power to be able to just hop onto the next available.

    Second, would a new location (co or otherwise) make the service more efficient?

    The train station might be better situated for high-traffic and high-volume time. Could a new location actually improve the service delivery of greyhound? Right now, they go for quantity over quality. Most people want to travel at peak times; a new location could enable the bus to provide better service.

    Third, does the current bus station enhance the neighborhood that it is in?

    Have you also taken into consideration the fact that the bus terminal really seems to be a liability where it is right now? To be honest, it’s the number one reason I didn’t buy a house in that neighborhood. I also think that it doesn’t portray our city in its best light. For people arriving to our city for the first time, I’m embarrassed by the welcome that the bus station provides.

    • 11 David McClelland
      April 14, 2010 at 11:52 am

      Thanks for your comment, I appreciate your perspective, even if we do disagree. It’s also nice to get a long, thoughtful comment—they’re unfortunately a rarity on the Internet!

      Anyway, I don’t really have time to address your comment in full right now, but I will say that I am a regular user of both the train and the bus out of Ottawa, the latter moreso than the former. My hometown is Peterborough, Ontario, and the only direct service to it is by Greyhound, so you can trust me when I say I’m pretty familiar with how Greyhound works, and how people use it. You’re definitely right that people get off at other locations (there’s always a group that leaves at Kanata Town Centre, Pinecrest, St. Laurent, etc.), but I do find the vast majority get off at the central terminal. I think that’s a big part of my concern, actually: would there still be somewhere in the central city that Greyhound could pick up and drop off the large loads of passengers for whom it’s more convenient? That’s very hard to say, as there aren’t a lot of locations that can easily handle that kind of thing easily or comfortably.

      I’ll try to comment again later, and give you my thoughts on the rest of your points. 🙂

  8. 12 Allan
    May 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I think that the idea is amazing.

    Recently, I was housed near Charlotte/Rideau. I had to take one of buses to get to the greyhound station. Coming from Montreal, I think the OC Transpo is awful, it took about 40 minutes to get to the station downtown. I was not impressed. I have taken the VIA Rail to Ottawa before, and it’s nice to take an express bus from there to downtown. I think it would be ideal to have greyhound moved. Plus the building is very old, does not accommodate travellers.

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