Every day, Edmontonians take over 400,000 transit trips, and every year ETS provides about two million hours of service. With our city growing at three times the national rate, and an anticipated 170,000 new residents arriving over the next decade, now is the time to start building for the future. The status-quo of our current transit system is no longer acceptable.
The way our transit system currently operates is inefficient and, in my opinion, has two critical flaws: it is both expensive to run and oftentimes unreliable to use. We’ve made strides in reallocating our transit resources, but our current system is operations-heavy and doesn’t put an emphasis on people. After an extensive, two-year long public engagement campaign, administration has released a plan built around five “pillars” with a hope to encourage more people to choose transit:
- Build transit-friendly neighbourhoods and places.
- Offer fare categories that are consistent and easy to understand.
- Provide service that reflects the different preferences of inner and outer neighbourhoods.
- Elevate the importance of safety.
- Keep up with trends in technology and the environment.
I’m pleased to see that many of the recommendations in this report came directly from the feedback users provided. If this plan is approved, transit users will see simplified, more direct community buses that connect local destinations to the major backbone routes. Suburban residents stressed the need for high-speed peak-hour routes to facilitate an easier commute and downtown core residents requested high-frequency systems available for short trips during any part of the day and more service on weekends.
The last major review and update to our bus service happened in 1997 and our city has grown by leaps and bounds since then. A change this transformative will certainly not be easy and we will experience growing pains as we move through the process. Some routes will be lost, some people will have to travel further to reach their bus stop, and we will have to think creatively about how we continue to serve seniors and those with mobility challenges. But we must evolve our thinking to deliver better transit service to Edmontonians and provide a service that more people will actually want to use.
As I’ve said before, having a high performing transit service supports increased productivity, reduces traffic congestion, achieves our shared environmental goals and stimulates economic activity. Building our city with an ‘urban-shift’ in mind, with a goal to achieving greater density by concentrating growth along our key corridors, requires the support of a high functioning transit system. This report (to be discussed on July 5th at Urban Planning Committee) gives us a window on bringing that vision to life and I’m interested in your thoughts.
My hope is that this review and implementation moves us to a ‘main line’ model of transit offering frequent, more direct service, thus giving many more Edmontonians options to leave their cars at home. I believe our role as leaders is to answer the question how do we build a city for people? Without transforming our transit system, we will fall short of that mission.
After hearing from many people at Committee last week, there is clearly some confusion around privatization and the proposed transit strategy. It’s important to note that the discussion around these alternative options is solely focused on the ‘first and last mile’ of a person’s trip – how they make the final leg of their journey, whether it’s by walking, taking a taxi or riding a bike to their destination. We need better options for this part of people’s trip today, regardless of any future changes to transit routes. The concerns raised last week about privatization and ridesharing has, in my opinion, been blown out of proportion as Council explores ways to deliver our $300 million public transit service more efficiently.
Part of the motion put forward directs Administration to look at all options for the first and last mile, from ridesharing, to Dial-A-Bus, to Driving Miss Daisy and more. Council has made no decisions when it comes to this and will have the opportunity to debate options further. This is not the main issue up for debate though. Our city does not have a coherent strategy for transit and we desperately need one. The proposed transit strategy is about shaking up a status quo that I believe isn’t serving riders very well – and instead building a transit service that can better meet the need of many present and more future riders.