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Notes from June 13 meeting of the Ottawa Gatineau chapter of AEBC

On June 13 members of the community of people who are blind, deafblind, and partially sighted met to hear from OC Transpo about the Light Rapid Transit System that is being created in the city of Ottawa. The notes follow, they are prepared by staff who presented during this meeting. Recap of Questions and Answers

Q1. What is it going to be like to travel on the new O-Train Confederation Line?

The O-Train Confederation Line is a fully-electric light rail transit system, also called an LRT. It extends 12.5 kilometres from Tunney’s Pasture Station to Blair Station, and includes a 2.5 kilometre tunnel through the downtown core. There are 13 stations on the Confederation Line – nine above-ground stations and four underground stations. The total travel time between Tunney’s Pasture and Blair will be approximately 24 minutes.

The O-Train Confederation Line is a very important project because it provides capacity for growth in transit ridership. Our existing bus rapid transit system was pretty much at capacity – we couldn’t add any more buses through downtown. The Confederation Line will significantly reduce the number of buses on downtown streets, and it provides the foundation for the Stage 2 LRT expansion to Bayshore, Baseline, Riverside South, and Place d’Orléans.

Most importantly, the O-Train Confederation Line will provide our customers with a high-frequency train service that is comfortable, reliable, and easy-to-use.

I’m going to provide a brief overview of the stations, vehicles, wayfinding and overall experience. Then, we’ll be going into a bit more detail on these topics as part of other questions.

O-Train Confederation Line stations will be comfortable, attractive, and secure, and have been designed based on universal accessibility principles. For example, upon arrival at an O-Train Confederation Line station, there will be tactile directional wayfinding tiles that will lead customers through the entrance and fare gates, to the elevators, and then to a waiting area on the platform called the Transecure area. O-Train Confederation Line platforms will include tactile markings that will indicate the edge of the platform.

The centrepieces of the O-Train Confederation Line are the Alstom Citadis Spirit trains, which will provide a very smooth, quiet and comfortable ride.

A few key features that will contribute to the overall experience are frequency and reliability.

For most of the day, the trains will arrive every 5 minutes or more frequently. This means that customers won’t need to check schedules. You can just show up at the station, knowing that the next train is no more than a few minutes away. If you miss a train and need to wait 4 minutes for the next one, it’s no big deal. Even at midnight, when the trains are at their lowest frequency, trains will still arrive every 15 minutes.

Another major benefit is that the trains will operate reliably at all times of year, even during winter. The trains will also be climate-controlled for year-round comfort.

A final point to mention is that many customers will be making connections from bus to train and from train to bus. The O-Train Confederation Line stations have been designed to make these connections easy and comfortable. At the major connection stations, there will be bus platforms integrated into the station where buses will pick up and drop off customers. The four major connection stations with integrated bus platforms are Tunney’s Pasture, Hurdman, St-Laurent and Blair. At seven other stations, buses will drop off customers right next to the station. At all of these stations, connections between bus and train will be quick and convenient.

Q2. Can you explain the layout of the LRT stations? Will the new Confederation Line trains have all side entry, or will there be any entryways in the middle platforms?

The O-Train Confederation Line stations do not all have the exact same layout, but they do have consistent features that will make them easy to navigate. Starting with the station entrances...

At the entrance of each station, there will be fare vending machines where customers can buy tickets and purchase or reload smartcards. Fare vending machines will also include audio-visual customer help points for customers who need assistance making their purchase or using the transit system. At the touch of a button, customers can contact OC Transpo customer service staff through an audio-video call using the built-in screen.

All stations will also have fare gates at the station entrance. Customers who are entering from the street will pass through the fare gates by scanning their smartcard or the barcode on their ticket. Once they have passed through the fare gates, they will be within the fare-paid zone.

Customers who are transferring to the Confederation Line from a bus at one of three major connection stations will not need to pass through the fare gates. At Tunney’s Pasture, Hurdman, and Blair Stations, buses will drop customers off at a bus platform within the fare-paid zone. Bus platforms will be organized in a consistent way. Arrival bus stops will be located adjacent to station entrances. Departure bus stops will be organized by destination, similar to at Transitway stations today but with simplified and improved signage. Since the integrated bus platforms are within the fare-paid zone at these three stations, customers will be able to board buses with all doors open to ensure fast boarding at the station.

Customers connecting from the Trillium Line to the Confederation Line will already be within the fare-paid zone at Bayview Station when they get off the Trillium Line. Customers will exit the train onto a platform on the west side of the tracks, and will find themselves within the new Bayview Station. This is different than the current Trillium Line Bayview platform, which is on the east side of the tracks, next to the multi-use pathway.

Once inside O-Train Confederation Line stations, customers will find themselves at concourse level. At most stations, customers will need to change levels to access the train platform using a stairwell, escalator or elevator. All stations except Tremblay Station will have two elevators side-by-side or in close proximity in order to minimize the incidence of elevator disruptions.

The train platform is where customers will board and disembark from trains. Platforms will be wide and well-lit. Each platform has a Transecure area, which is an area of enhanced safety and security with customer amenities. Most times, trains will consist of two cars. On the platform there will be a physical barrier where the trains are joined together to prevent any customers from stepping out in between the cars. On Saturdays and Sundays, trains will only be operating with one car. This car will always be in the front position along the platform. The Transecure is always located adjacent to the front car.

Of the thirteen O-Train Confederation Line stations, three have centre platform configurations. This means that customers travelling both eastbound and westbound will share the same platform. Eastbound trains arrive and depart from one side of the platform, and westbound trains use the opposite side of the same platform.

Ten of the stations have side platform configurations. At these stations, there will be separate eastbound and westbound platforms for boarding.

There will be many doorways all along the length of the train, which means that customers can board from almost any area of the platform.

A few final notes on station layout – Lyon, Parliament, and Rideau Stations are underground stations that have station entrances integrated into surrounding buildings. St-Laurent Station is also an underground station, connected to the adjacent shopping mall and the bus station at the surface level. Several stations will have passenger pick-up and drop-off areas.

Q3. How will the O-Train Confederation Line compare to the Trillium Line?

From a technology perspective, the O-Train Confederation Line is electric, powered by an overhead wire called the catenary. The Trillium Line is diesel, with vehicles powered by a diesel combustion engine. For the user, there will be different feels and sounds for the ride on the two systems. The Trillium Line trains have a slightly slower acceleration and a distinctive low quiet rumbling sound coming from the engine underneath the vehicle. The Confederation Line trains will accelerate more quickly and will generate little noise from the electric motors.

The O-Train Confederation Line uses a more sophisticated signaling system called communications-based train control (CBTC). This system gives us better control of train schedules and allows us to run trains closer together.

Train doorways:

On both the Confederation Line and Trillium Line, there are double doors that split in the middle and slide open and closed. However, the Confederation Line trains have significantly more doorways than the Trillium Line trains. The extra doors mean that more people can board the train at one time which in turn reduces the time that trains need to be stopped at each station.

On the weekend, the one-car train will be 50 metres long, with seven doorways on each side. On the weekdays, the two-car train will be 100 metres long, with fourteen doorways on each side. As mentioned earlier, with the weekday train, there is a small gap where the two cars connect. A physical barrier near the edge of the platform will mark and block this gap.

Boarding the train from the platform:

On the Confederation Line, the train pulls up right next to the platform so the gap between the platform and the train is very small, compared to the current Trillium Line. There will also be audio announcements on the Confederation Line platform about when the next train will be arriving, to help with easy boarding. The doorway of the train will be right at the same level as the platform.

Once you’re on the train:

Unlike the Trillium Line trains, which have steps leading to some of the seating, the Confederation Line trains will have a continuous floor design. This will allow easy movement within the train. The Confederation Line trains will also feature:

  • Cooperative seating areas;
  • Multipurpose areas, for customers with luggage or bicycles or customers who use a mobility device like a wheelchair;
  • Audio and visual next stop announcements, much like those on our current buses;
  • Colour-contrasted handholds and grab bars throughout the train;
  • Slip-resistant, low-glare floors; and
  • Enhanced lighting at the entrances to help with boarding and exiting.

Confederation Line stations will be more comfortable and easier to navigate than the Trillium Line stations. They are being designed to the highest current standards of safety and accessibility as explained earlier.

Q4. Will customers have to push a button to open the door and board the train?

The doors on Confederation Line vehicles will be able to open in two ways. Customers will be able to open the doors using the self-serve push buttons in the interior and on the exterior of the vehicles. Operators will also be able to open the doors using the train controls. This is different than the Trillium Line, where the doors can only be operated by customers using the self-serve push buttons. The self-serve buttons will be raised and will include bright LED indicators.

Most of the time, we plan to operate the doors in self-serve mode to conserve energy. However, at busy stations, doors will open without the need for customers to press the self-serve button. Operators will also have a view down the platform and will be watching for people on platforms who may need assistance in opening doors.

Q5. What tactile markers will be installed at LRT stations? What accessible information will help blind customers travel safely and independently through stations?

Tactile directional wayfinding tiles starting just outside the station entrances will lead customers to both fare vending machines and fare gates.

Tactile wayfinding tiles will then lead customers to the elevators, which will in turn bring customers to the platforms.

Outside the elevators, elevator directories will be provided in Braille and raised text, and will identify the different levels of the station, as well as the train direction of the associated platform. Inside the elevators, operating controls will also be provided in Braille and raised text.

Once customers reach the platform level, tactile directional wayfinding tiles will lead them to a waiting area on the platform called the Transecure area. The Transecure area features amenities such as benches, enhanced lighting, emergency phones and CCTV cameras.

Platform edges will include yellow colour-contrasted tactile warning indicator tiles that will tell customers that they are nearing the platform edge. These tiles will run the entire length of the platform. The platforms will also have cane-detectable, physical barriers near the platform edge in the middle of the platform that prevent customers from stepping into the empty space between the cars of a two-car train.

On the bus platforms at Tunney’s Pasture, Hurdman and Blair, each of the bus stop poles will also include tactile signs identifying the bus stop in Braille and raised text.

In terms of other accessible information... On the station platforms, passenger information screens will display information about the next train arrival and any other announcements. They will be accompanied by audio announcements providing the same information to customers. On the trains, there will be similar audio and visual announcements of each stop.

Q11. Does the LRT plan to make designated seating available for people who cannot stand safely? How will passengers find the designated seating area without relying on vision? Will signage within trains be provided in an accessible format?

Each car will have four cooperative seating areas. On one side of each of the four cooperative seating areas, there will be three fixed seats that will always be available as cooperative seating. On the other side of each area, there will be four more cooperative seating seats that are spring-loaded, so they will stay in an upright position when no one is sitting on them. This will create a space for a customer using a mobility device, or for customers with bicycles, strollers or large objects.

In terms of finding the cooperative seating areas, there will be a cooperative seating area right next to each doorway. In addition, the two cooperative seating areas closest to the front and rear of each car will always be in the same location relative to the platform that passengers will board from. There will always be a cooperative seating area in between the first two doorways at the front of the car, and in between the last two doorways at the rear of the car. Customers that would like to sit in these areas can position themselves in the right location on the platform based on the physical barrier between the two cars – this is a consistent platform marking. They can then board through the same doorway each time and make their way to the same cooperating seating area.

To further help with finding doorways and cooperative seating areas, the Transecure Area is always located in the first half of the platform, where the front of the train will always stop.

In terms of accessible information on trains, there will be both audio announcements and visual display screens to announce each stop. The passenger emergency intercom is marked with Braille.

Q6 & 8. What Confederation Line electronic navigation systems are being considered to help residents travel safely inside LRT stations? Does the LRT plan include digital navigation systems that identify important facilities such as the location of elevators and washrooms?

Electronic navigation systems were not part of the scope of work for the Confederation Line project. However, we recognize that these types of systems would be of great assistance to people with visual impairments.

OC Transpo staff has recently begun doing some research on apps or technologies that we may be able to add to our existing and future stations to assist customers. One example is Wayfindr, which is an audio-based navigation technology currently being piloted in one of London’s subway stations. The system provides audio directions using a smartphone app that interacts with beacons installed throughout the subway station. Wayfindr and other similar technologies all seem to be still in the trial stages, and there is not yet an indoor navigation system – that we know of – that has been successfully implemented on a large scale in a transit setting.

However, there may also be some lower tech solutions that we could consider in the interim – for example, the provision of audio or text descriptions of station layouts. Again, we would be interested in your thoughts on the usefulness of this type of resource for people with visual impairments.

Q3. How will OC Transpo ensure that customers have a high degree of trust in the new Confederation Line system? How will you ensure it’s easy to use?

In terms of ensuring the Confederation Line is easy to use – there has been a large multi-disciplinary team of professionals involved in designing the stations and vehicles. Our objective is to ensure that the system is convenient, reliable, safe, accessible and easy to use for all of our customers. We have people thinking about every detail of the system, from the colour of maps and signs to the lighting level within the train.

Safety is our priority, so we’ve applied a safety lens to every aspect of Confederation Line planning and design. Our other priority is the customer experience, so for every question we consider, we are thinking about what different types of customers will feel, see and hear as they navigate the system. This includes thinking specifically about customers with visual impairment and other types of disabilities.

Finally, we are committed to providing our customers with the information and education they need to successfully use the transit system once Confederation Line opens. We are currently planning a comprehensive information and education campaign that will start in 2017 and lead up to opening day in 2018.

In terms of trust in the system – the team that is building the Confederation Line has significant experience delivering major transit projects to the highest standards of quality. In addition, every aspect of the Confederation Line system will be tested to ensure that it meets these standards and performs well in different conditions such as snow, rain and extreme heat. Every vehicle, every light and every door will be tested. The testing process has already started, and will continue until right before opening day in 2018.

As part of the station review process, station designs been thoroughly analyzed including:

  • Safety and security assessments through applying the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design;
  • Accessibility assessments to all the relevant standards and codes;
  • Lighting analyses to ensure light levels throughout stations meet all requirements;
  • Microclimate modeling, including testing 3-D station models with wind and snow weather simulations;
  • Passenger circulation modeling simulations to ensure stations are designed to accommodate customer volumes on opening day and well into the future past 2031; and
  • Reviews of life-size mock-ups of certain station elements, such as station platforms and tactile walking surface indicators.

Q3. People are feeling insecure and some changes to bus routes not being adequately explained when construction happens, so that just adds to the discomfort of change coming. Can you provide some information on this?

We recognize that construction-related changes at Transitway Stations have been a challenge for our customers. Bus routes have changed – sometimes more than once – and the walking routes to and from bus stops and through stations have been significantly affected.

Through the course of these changes, which began in early 2015, we have developed and refined two strategies that have turned out to be very helpful for customers in dealing with these types of changes:

  1. We used the onboard audio announcements to provide targeted messages about specific bus routes. For example customers riding route 114 would hear a recorded audio announcement about how route 114 would no longer be serving Hurdman as of a particular date.

  2. We assigned a lot of customer service personnel to be at stations where major changes were happening, to provide on-site support during the first few days of these changes.

These two efforts were in addition to all the standard information channels and materials that we use to communicate service changes to customers, such as shelter posters, pamphlets, signage, public service announcements and radio ads.

Of course in spite of our best communication efforts, we recognize that the construction-related service changes inside Transitway Stations are very disruptive, and are difficult to communicate to all customers, particularly customers with visual impairments. So we thank you for your patience.

The good news is that these types of construction-related changes are coming to an end very soon, after one more Transitway station closure on June 24, and some platform adjustments at Hurdman, Tunney’s and LeBreton later this year.

Moving forward, we will be doing a lot of communication related to the opening and use of the new stations along the Confederation Line. This communication will be able to focus on how to navigate through a brand new station, rather than how to maneuver around a construction zone. Schedules and travel directions are much simpler for train service compared to bus service, which will help with communication.

We are currently in the process of developing the communication program and materials to educate our customers about the Confederation Line and to help customers make the transition to the new service. We will take advantage of the communication lessons learned during the construction phase, such as using on-board audio information and providing extensive in-person support at each major location.

One other important point to mention is that we are here to help – we offer a travel training program that will certainly be available for people with visual impairments after the Confederation Line opens. We have also done one-on-one orientation sessions with customers who need assistance with various aspects of the system. We want to make sure that you feel comfortable and confident using the Confederation Line.

Q7. Is accessibility a mandatory requirement for purchasing information, communications and technologies used for the Confederation Line?

All City of Ottawa departments, including OC Transpo and the Rail Implementation Office, are required to incorporate accessibility criteria, features and designs when purchasing all types of goods, services or facilities for the public. This ensures that all customers, including people with disabilities, can make use of these same goods, services and facilities. All City contract specifications and evaluations must also include accessibility considerations.

This requirement to consider accessibility in procurement also applies to information and communications technologies. The City currently requires that its web-based content and applications meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA standards. These are internationally recognized web content accessibility guidelines whose goal is to make web content more usable to everyone, including those with disabilities.

Linked to the above question, Penny had asked, Can we assume that all services we receive for the O-Train Confederation Line (e.g. fare payment machines or info screens), will be accessible?

Yes, all services and technologies for the Confederation Line will be accessible. Fare gates, fare vending machines and customer help points on the Confederation Line will meet all relevant City of Ottawa accessibility guidelines. For example, operating controls will be mounted at accessible heights, and will provide customers with visual and audible feedback. Fare vending machines and the integrated customer help points will incorporate touch screens, but audible voice instructions will also be available through a headphone jack or external speakers on the device. These machines will also feature operating controls with lights, tactile elements on the front panel, and raised text and Braille instruction panels.

Stations will also include accessible emergency phones that connect customers with our Special Constables, and accessible information phones that connect customers with our Customer Service staff. All benches and seating will be accessible as well.

Q10. Does the LRT planning include outreach to designated groups such as Ottawa and Gatineau chapter of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians to ensure that our safety concerns are addressed as blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted customers and taxpayers?

Accessibility has been a major focus of the design process, and we have included a number of different accessibility groups in planning and design.

  • Various technical advisory groups were part of the project planning and environmental assessment process.
  • In particular, the City's Accessibility Advisory Committee was provided with periodic presentations about the project, including detailed information on station and vehicle design.
  • The City of Ottawa Accessibility Design Standards, AODA, best practices and other documents are incorporated in the Contract Agreement and design review.
  • Design review included subject matter experts during the procurement and design process, using industry standards for accessibility. Betty Dion is one of the consultants involved in the project whose sole focus is accessibility and she was involved in reviewing the design of the trains, stations and systems for accessibility considerations.

Follow-Up Questions

Will transit still be free for CNIB customers? How will CNIB customers pass through the electronic fare gates?

No changes to the fares for CNIB customers are planned. CNIB customers will be provided with a pass that can be scanned at the fare gates.

In the cooperative seating areas, will the seats fold down individually, or as a block? Will they rebound if they are not held down?

On one side of each cooperative seating area, there will be three fixed seats that will always be available as cooperative seating. They will not fold up and down. On the other side of each cooperative seating area, there will be four seats that are spring-loaded. They will fold down individually and will rebound if they are not held down.

Will Braille and raised text be installed at appropriate heights within buildings?

Yes, Braille and raised text will be at appropriate heights. As part of our design process, we are lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of transit agencies around the world. We have incorporated industry standards and best practices for accessibility features into our designs.

Will there be an opportunity for the system to be tested by users with disabilities before opening?

We are hoping that it will be possible for customers with disabilities to test the system before opening. However, it depends on how construction progresses. If construction is on schedule or ahead of schedule, there may be time for people to preview the system and stations.

Can you tell us more about travel training? Will individual travel training be available? What community groups are involved in the travel training program? Does it address travel for people with multiple disabilities? How can we get access to the travel training materials?

Travel training is a comprehensive instructional program delivered by local schools, community groups, organizations and agencies in partnership with OC Transpo. Individuals and groups that would like travel training are matched with suitable trainers from these organizations. Training materials are provided to these organizations by OC Transpo. Training manuals address travel for people with all types of disabilities and/or with multiple disabilities. We are partnered with community organizations of all kinds and have always been able to meet trainees’ needs. If there are organizations that we are not yet working with, we would love to hear about them. You can contact accessibility@octranspo.com for more information.

On centre platform configurations, how will users with visual and/or hearing impairments be able to tell which side of the platform is for eastbound vs. westbound trains? Would it be possible to put a sign with Braille and raised text in a consistent location?

The next train announcements on the platform will let customers know which way the train is travelling. Staff will explore other opportunities to provide Braille and raised text to supplement this strategy.

There were follow-up questions about challenges opening the door on the Trillium Line and whether these will also occur on the Confederation Line.

There have been some issues with sensitivity of door opening devices on the Trillium Line. The door buttons should work more consistently on the Confederation Line. In addition, the operator can open the door on the Confederation Line train for customers, and will be scanning the platforms for customers in need of assistance with doors.

Will the tactile markings also lead to the stairways?

The tactile markings will lead to the elevators. However, customers can choose to use the stairs if they would prefer to use stairs. The stairways will have accessibility features including tactile warning indicators at the top landing of the stairway, accessible handrails and a contrasting colour stripe on the nosing of each stair.

There was a question from a user who had had trouble using the website the last time they had tried it.

If you have any issues with the accessibility of any aspects of our octranspo.com website, please contact Customer Service or send the details by email to accessibility@octranspo.com so that we can fix it.

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.
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