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OC Transpo & Food Access
A City where pedestrians and public transit riders have ample and easy access to retail outlets along transportation routes which sell healthy and fresh foods that are locally-produced when possible.
In order to determine the feasibility of municipal policy supporting fresh and healthy foods (locally-produced when possible) at OC Transpo stations, we recommend a pilot or test project be implemented to provide retail access to healthy and fresh (locally produced foods when possible) at a major OC Transpo station. An eligible site could be determined by neighbourhood need, a central location, high traffic, few or no food retail outlets, proximity to large City of Ottawa operations and other buildings such as educational facilities (e.g. colleges, universities), and the feasibility of implementing the project at the proposed location.
- Food vendors would be invited to apply to set up a fresh food stand at the station. Proposals could be assessed based on criteria that could include nutritional quality of foods to be served, proportion of fresh foods, proportion of local foods and other criteria determined by community groups in consultation with OC Transpo and the relevant licensing/zoning office. This could include both fresh, uncooked foods as well as cooked and prepared food items.
- The pilot project would be broadly advertised at a launch to promote the initiative, and to celebrate OC Transpo and the City of Ottawa as leaders among North American cities on issues of sustainability and food access and local economic development associated with transit systems.
- The pilot project would include a baseline evaluation, and it would then be evaluated after a period of 1 year, and renewed or expanded as appropriate. Evaluation criteria would be developed in partnership with OC Transpo, Ottawa Public Health, and interested community-level organizations and groups.
Pertains to: OC Transpo, Ottawa Public Health, Food Businesses, Community organizations
By combining food access, environmental sustainability, and local economic development through addressing ‘access to food’ and the public transportation system simultaneously, this initiative has potential to make OC Transpo and the City of Ottawa Canadian leaders among North American cities
Improves access to healthier foods
This pilot project would be one step towards addressing the current lack of fresh and local food that is available to OC Transpo riders and pedestrians, and address the evidence of disparities between the number of fast food outlets and smaller number of fresh food vendors that are conveniently located for transit users and pedestrians in Ottawa.
Residents of lower income and minority neighbourhoods in most urban areas face a double bind that severely limits their access to fresh, healthy food. First, full service supermarkets and farmers’ markets are often scarce in low-income areas, which results in longer travel times, whether by car, bicycle, walking, or public transportation. Second, lower income residents are also more likely than the general public to be transit-dependent, making it more challenging to travel to food markets located outside of their immediate neighbourhoods or off of main bus routes.
Over the past 10 years, OC Transpo has recorded ridership levels that average 86 million transit uses per year. On an average weekday in 2010, OC Transpo recorded a ridership level of 384,000 over an urban transit area of 442 sq. km. By locating fresh food vendors at major transit hubs, the City could dramatically increase the accessibility of healthier foods to the population of transit users.
Supports healthy eating
Only twenty percent of Canadian adults eat the recommended 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, whilst twenty-five per cent of Canadians report having eaten fast food in the last twenty-four hours. In order to help Ottawa citizens increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods, fresh foods need to be readily available for purchase in accessible locations throughout the city.
If food carts and fruit and vegetable stands are available at OC Transpo locations throughout the city, foods that are fresh, healthy and locally produced where possible, including both whole foods and prepared foods, could be available for purchase to everybody within walking distance of a major OC Transpo station and those riding the buses. These foods would therefore become “convenient” to consume and may enhance regular consumption of fruits and vegetables and other ‘healthy’ foods for people ‘on-the-go’, and offering an alternative to fast food menus.
The Ottawa Neighbourhood Study provides data that allows for the identification of ‘food deserts’ in Ottawa. Food deserts are neighbourhoods or communities, often low-income, that have only limited access to fresh, healthy food. Currently, in Ottawa, there are fourteen lower income neighbourhoods with limited access to a grocery store (here defined as no grocery store in neighbourhood and a distance of more than a kilometre to the closest grocery store). This is particularly problematic, as people living in poorer neighbourhoods may lack personal transportation and thus face difficulties getting to and from the grocery store. People living in rural neighbourhoods also face difficulties accessing grocery stores; the centres of five rural neighbourhoods in Ottawa are more than 10 kilometres away from the nearest grocery store. Even though the rural neighbourhoods and communities around Ottawa are classified as higher income than urban neighbourhoods, there are many people living in such neighbourhoods who are living on lower income and thus face hardships accessing food.
Increasing the availability of fresh, locally-produced food including fruits and vegetables to transit users in Ottawa, through collaborative projects between OC Transpo, the City of Ottawa and community groups such as Just Food, has potential to improve the health of Ottawa citizens.
Promotes the convenience of public transit
The presence of food stands for commuters could make Ottawa’s public transportation system unique. Fresh food terminals at transit hubs would service existing transit users, and pedestrians within walking distance of the hubs. This pilot project also has the potential to inform OC Transpo’s longer term plans for light rail and systems expansion in general.
The Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (ONS) public poll asked residents how far they have to travel to get to the nearest grocery store; the largest category of respondents (33.5% or 269 respondents) indicated that they must travel more than 2km to get to a grocery store. Incorporating fresh and local produce at transit stations will potentially make food more accessible and provide an incentive to Ottawa residents considering making a shift from personal transportation to public transportation, but will also be particularly important for those Ottawa residents who do not own a vehicle, and depend on public transportation.
Promotes environmental sustainability
Many so-called ‘convenience foods’, including some ‘fast food’, do not contribute to a healthy diet, are also unsustainable and have been shown to have negative environmental impacts (i.e. increased pollution and decreased quality of soil) as a result of processing, packaging, and shipping, and negative social implications (i.e. increased health care costs). These costs of cheap ‘convenience’ foods are not reflected in retail prices. Making fresh and local food options more readily available will give Ottawa residents opportunities to choose food which is more ecologically sustainable.
Appendix E1: Evidence/Precedence:
Involving Public Transit in greater Food Justice in Other Communities
- The City of Seattle & King County aims to be a national leader in encouraging healthy, active lifestyles. Under the Department of Planning & Development the city has “…partnered with the Puget Sound Transit to develop a mobile food program that will create low-cost opportunities for Rainier Valley entrepreneurs to start small businesses at the Mt. Baker Link light rail station.” The goal of the project is to improve access to locally grown food; institutionalize the City’s health assessment efforts and provide healthy food at transit stations. More information can be found on the King County website.
- The City of Philadelphia and the South-eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) are working together to eliminate food deserts – areas of the city where it is difficult to access fresh food. As the sixth largest transit system in the USA that serves 4 million people, “SEPTA plans to use its real estate to host farmers’ markets at transit centres in partnership with the Food Trust.” More information can be found online at smartercities.nrdc.org.
- Ottawa’s Arts and Entertainment website, The Wig, is currently circulating a petition (see Appendix B) in order to increase the presence of fresh food carts in Ottawa. In an article dated April 13, 2011, author Jon Lomow argues that food carts not only bring fresh, healthy foods to people on-the-go, but also act as hubs bringing people together in public spaces, contributing a social as well as economic benefit. It is clear that people are interested in fresh and healthy food carts.
- As part of its plan to combat rising obesity levels, New York City issued 1,000 additional permits for mobile fruit and vegetable stands in low-income neighbourhoods. According to a 2008 Reuters article, “there are more than 4,000 permits for so-called green carts in New York and the stands are a common sight in wealthy Manhattan. But low-income New Yorkers are left with little choice but to buy unhealthy “convenience” foods, most of which are packaged and processed, supporters of the bill said”. No indication was made in the report as to whether or not food carts would be strategically placed along major transit routes/hubs.
- The City of Portland has a thriving food cart industry, many of them catering to ethnic tastes and palates for healthier food. Food carts are seen in Portland as supporting small, locally-owned businesses and small start-ups that might not have capital nor credit to open up full-fledged restaurants. Food carts are also appreciated for creating a vibrant downtown and centralized city by bringing what planners call a “social fabric on the street”, which is important in cultural terms, but in economic terms also attracts other spenders, retail outlets, and restaurants and cafes. Although there is no formal agreement between public transit and food cart vendors, maps show the various food carts are located in clusters around high foot- and transit- traffic areas of the city.
To Mayor Watson and Ottawa City Council:
We, the residents of Ottawa, would like City Council to take advantage of changes made to provincial regulations in 2007 and put in place the policies and programs necessary to spark a vibrant, eclectic and local-minded food cart culture in Ottawa. We believe an effective program would have lasting positive effects on our city’s tourism sector, economic development, public transit, health and nutrition, use of public space and overall sense of community.
984 people have signed.
(as of December 19, 2011)
 Depending on the site, this food stand could be a mobile unit, like a food truck or cart, or a permanent stall or small store.
 Transform. (2002). “San Francisco: Long Travel Times to the Store,” in Sustainable Cities Collective Studies Show the Connection between travel times to food stores and public health, accessed online April 2011 at http://sustainablecitiescollective.com/thecityfix/18142/studies-show-connection-between-travel-times-food-stores-and-public-health
 The People’s Grocer: Healthy Food for Everyone. (n.d.). “Transportation and Food Access in Urban Areas” Linking Food and Transportation, accessed online April 2011 at http://www.peoplesgrocery.org/index.php?topic=funstuff_articles
 Canwest News Service. (Dec 19, 2007). “Canada Turning into Fast Food Nation,” citing the Canadian Community Health Survey: Nutrition (2004), accessed online April 2011 athttp://www.canada.com/topics/news/politics/story.html?id=284fbbac-3be5-4498-92cb-065ebf37ab77
 Cummins, S & Macintyre, S. (2006). “Food Environments and Obesity – neighbourhood or nation?” International Journal of Epidemiology, (35): 100-104
According to the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study (2011), lower income neighbourhoods with poor access to a grocery store (none in neighbourhood and more than a kilometer to travel to nearest one from population centre) include: Bayshore, Bells Corners West, Carlington, Greenboro East, Hintonburg, Hunt Club – Ottawa Airport, Iris, Ottawa East, Pineview, Sandy Hill – Ottawa East, West Centretown (has many specialty stores but no grocery store), Whitehaven – Queensway Terrace North, Woodroffe – Lincoln Heights, and Woodvale.
 Adapted from USDA definition. (http://www.ers.usda.gov/data/fooddesert/about.html#Defined)
 Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. (2011)
 The City of Ottawa’s bylaw regulations around food carts are available through the City of Ottawa’s By-Law Services.
 Reuters (February 28, 2008). “New York using food carts in latest obesity fight”, accessed online June 1 2011 at http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/02/28/us-green-carts-idUSN2738591320080228