Study underway to examine feasibility of privately owned transit network
A startup called Moose is proposing to set up a 400-km rail system that would connect Ottawa and Gatineau to small, outlying towns. And it doesn't want to charge set fares.
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The Greater Toronto Area has GO transit, and the national capital region may one day have Moose transit.
Moose is a would-be privately owned, pay-what-you-want express-rail network providing rail service to small towns along six lines. Thelines would terminate in Bristol, Arnprior, Smiths Falls, Montebello, La Peche and Alexandria.
A recently announced $5-million study, which will be returned in approximately three months and which is being funded by LeMine Investment Group, is the first step towards the development of the network.
At the core of Moose’s private-ownership model is separating “the business of running stations with the business of running trains,” said Joseph Potvin Moose’s director. Moose would operate the train service, but independent enterprises would own and operate all the stations.
Localities would then “subscribe to train service” — that is, pay Moose an agreed-upon percentage of property value increment. Moose estimates that its entire proposed 400-km network would cost approximately $200 million per year.
“All the relevant models to compare this to are (from) between the mid-1800s and early-1900s,” Potvin said. “Practically all the metropolitan-scale railway developments were all fully private-sector investments.”
The proposed system would have no set fares, or any requirement that riders pay at all; tickets would sold on a pay-what-you-can basis.
“It’s a way to completely emphasize that the money’s in the property,” Potvin said. “It forces us to design the business such that it does not depend on high transit fares and it does not depend on large public-sector subsidies.”
Whether or not this is feasible from a business perspective — that is, whether small municipalities will be able to afford “subscriptions’ — is one of the questions the feasibility study is hoping to answer.
Moose has recently become entangled in a battle with the City of Ottawa over a 240-metre section of track, near Bayview Station, that was ripped up during construction of the LRT station. Moose had hoped to use that track as part of a line that would traverse the Princess of Wales Bridge to connect with Gatineau.
The city, for its part, says that it has “not reviewed the Moose plan and therefore is not in a position to comment,” although at least two stations, Bayview and Carleton, are OC Transpo stations.