Mind the gap: Getting Edmontonians to transit hubs without local buses

The City of Edmonton plans to revamp its bus routes but before that happens, some city councillors want to make sure neighbourhoods with low ridership won’t be left in the lurch.

Revamped network puts some neighbourhoods nearly 1 kilometre from closest bus stop

Alternative transit methods may include vehicle for hire, car sharing, bike sharing, vanpools and transit on demand. (CBC)

The City of Edmonton plans to revamp its bus routes but before that happens, some city councillors want to make sure neighbourhoods with low ridership won't be left in the lurch.

The so-called first kilometre/last kilometre transit challenge offers alternatives to dozens of routes on the potential chopping block when the city moves ahead with its bus network redesign in mid-2020.

Options to replace community buses include vehicle for hire, car-sharing, bike sharing and on-demand transit like a modern kind of dial-a-bus.

City council's urban planning committee is scheduled to debate the options at a meeting on Tuesday.  

Coun. Michael Walters, whose Ward 10 contains several southwest neighbourhoods at risk of losing community bus service, questions the proposed alternatives.

"The way Edmonton's built, we could conceivably leave some people without transportation in certain older neighbourhoods and I don't want that to happen," he said Monday.

Walters thinks the city should still consider community busing for low-ridership neighbourhoods, instead of turning too quickly to vanpools and ride sharing.

The options are outlined in a report prepared by Stantec, which identifies two tiers of gaps in service. 
Stantec has deemed the southwest neighbourhoods of Cameron Heights, Wedgewood Heights and Donsdale as high priority for alternative transit. (Stantec)

The report notes that the city's bus network redesign has left a "scattering of areas where transit used to be accessible within 400-metre walking distance."

Those areas are now an 800-metre walk away or further.

Stantec identifies Cameron Heights, Wedgewood Heights and Donsdale as being high priority neighbourhoods for alternative service because of the long distance from the nearest LRT stop or transit centre.

Pilot projects pitched

Edmonton Transit Service suggests the city start with pilot projects in four areas where an on-demand transit solution could be beneficial.

ETS identifies Cameron Heights/Wedgewood, Northwest Industrial, Brander Gardens/Brookside and Grandview/Lansdowne/Aspen Gardens as having the biggest potential gaps.

Several neighbourhoods in Ward 5 are at risk of losing small bus service.

Coun. Sarah Hamilton said many community stops are infrequent to the point of inconvenience.

"The bus comes every half an hour and then you'll probably do a bit of a milk run through some other communities, and then you'd have to get to the next hub and you're waiting for that bus to come to get where you need to go."

Under a proposed "home to hub model," she said on-demand service may improve the system with more direct and faster service.

"I know there's a lot of anxiety that things might get worse, but there's also a potential here that things might get way better," said Hamilton. 

Walters wants to see a more concrete plan for neighbourhoods in his ward, including Grandview, Lansdowne and Aspen Gardens slated to be part of the pilot.

"I can't tell people who rely on bus service — who are in their 80s, who are still active and want to stay mobile and get around the city — that we're thinking of something but I can't tell you what that is but we're also going to take your bus away," he said.

If the pilot projects are approved, ETS will develop an action plan and budget to present to council later in 2019.

Stantec's proposals would cost the city an additional $925,000.


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