Edmonton still on board with regional transit plan, city council agrees

Edmonton has committed to putting in place a regional transit plan which is expected to start next spring.

Council voted 10-3 Monday to support the first phase of the network linking seven municipalities to Edmonton on eleven routes.

The system will connect Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Leduc, Beaumont, Stony Plain and Devon.

It is estimated that the first phase will cost the City of Edmonton at least $7.2 million per year, but the Edmonton Transit Services Commission will present a specific budget in the fall.

Andrew Knack, Edmonton Council’s representative on the EMTSC, said the plan will provide transit alternatives to an area still dependent on the car.

“Without regional transit, everyone will continue to drive and one of the main causes of climate change will go unaddressed,” Knack said.

Erin Rutherford, councilor for Anirniq ward, said that despite lingering questions about each municipality’s contribution, she supports the move to a regional system and the first phase of the plan.

Although the cost will be up for debate in the fall, she noted.

“Depending on what that number comes back and depending on what other competing priorities we have for operational funds, I’m not going to commit today to actually fund that at budget time,” Rutherford said.

Some councilors objected

Aaron Paquette, along with Michael Janz and Jo-Anne Wright, voted against the plan as proposed.

Councilor Ward Dene said regional cooperation will be important in the long term, but the plan as presented has too many unanswered questions.

“We don’t have ridership numbers as a projection,” he said. “We have no idea who is going to use it how often,”

Some areas of Edmonton desperately need better service and should come before the city invests in a regional system, Paquette said.

“It’s really hard for me to go back to my community right now and say, ‘We’re investing more money in regional transit than we’re investing in local transit.'”

A draft map from the first phase shows eleven routes operating through the region. (Edmonton Transit Services Commission)

Knack said the plan includes improving service on some existing local routes provided by ETS.

“It actually adds hours of service to Edmonton. For me, it’s definitely better service, right now,” he said. “And that will help strengthen the region.”

In a memorandum of understanding in 2019, 13 municipalities were included in the plan. Strathcona County was the largest transit provider to pull out.

Some councilors have suggested that Edmonton could allocate part of the planned regional network budget to local routes.

Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, branch manager of Edmonton Transit Services, told the council on Monday that it would be possible to add weekend and off-peak service to existing routes or add bus service to neighborhoods currently in demand areas.

Professional anxieties

The operators for the regional links have not yet been chosen.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, a former bus driver, said he believed in a regional system but was worried about costs and the effect on staff.

Sohi said he hears transit operators’ concerns about their future work if the commission contracts out certain routes.

“There is real concern that their jobs will be privatized,” Sohi said. “Perceived or real, I don’t know, but they feel anxious.”

Hotton-MacDonald said staff talk about job security.

“They’re very, very, very worried about it,” she said.

“The anxiety isn’t just about the potential for privatization, there’s anxiety about no longer being a direct employee of the City of Edmonton.”

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