Edmonton slashes 100 routes in proposed new bus system

The City of Edmonton is revamping its bus network in an effort to get more people to take transit. The proposed redesign sees the number of main routes slashed from 200 to 100.

Transit riders say they want buses more often on major routes

A proposed new bus network for Edmonton cuts the number of main routes but adds new rapid routes and crosstown connections. (Phil LaPlante/CBC)

The City of Edmonton is doing a major overhaul of its bus-route network in an effort to get more people to take transit.

The city has released a draft plan of its transit strategy, approved by council last year, that shows the new bus network.

"This initiative is redesigning our bus routes from scratch," Sarah Feldman, director of planning and scheduling at Edmonton Transit Service, said Thursday.

Feldman said the city got input from thousands of Edmontonians and the majority said they want more frequent bus service.

In the proposed redesign, the number of main routes is slashed from 200 to 100. 

"We've thinned them out, so we've reduced overlap and we've straightened some routes," Feldman explained. "They're not winding through, for example, all the neighbourhood collector roads." 
Sarah Feldman, director of planning and scheduling at ETS, says the city will use the same budget in bus redesign. (CBC)

The new bus network will continue to provide local routes in neighbourhoods, but walking distances to bus stops may increase, the city said.

"It means there's an up to 10-minute walk in some areas of the city in order to provide these less circuitous routes that are no longer running through nooks and crannies in neighbourhoods," Feldman said.

That 10-minute walk will prove difficult for some, Mark Tetterington, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, told CBC News. 

"Those who are mobility challenged are going to suffer because there's certain areas where they're going to have to walk up to 800 metres to catch a bus."

Tetterington said the proposed changes remind him of last June, when the city cut neighbourhood routes.

"There's an uproar from some of the people that have to walk now further," he said Thursday. "They're not too happy at all that there is no more bus service in those areas, or less frequent bus service.

"Especially some of the older folks, because they rely on the bus."

Tetterington suggests the city include a "bus-on-demand" option, where one bus would cover three routes. 

"It kind of compensates for the low ridership areas, where you'll have that bus serving those areas. It might be less frequent, but it gives those people the service they need."

Four types of buses

The draft plan includes frequent buses on major corridors in inner areas and to some extent, outer areas. Buses on these routes will run every 15 minutes or better on weekdays and Saturdays, and every 20 minutes or better during late nights and Sunday.

Other buses, on what the city calls "rapid bus routes," will connect areas of the city that don't have LRT service to major destinations such as downtown, the University of Alberta and shopping centres.

Crosstown routes will connect major destinations in outer areas of the city without having to go through downtown or travel on neighbourhood roads. They will run every 20 to 30 minutes.

Local routes will provide connections to LRT, frequent bus routes and local centres. 
Bus 7 from the university to Jasper Place is considered a local bus, running every 30 minutes to an hour in off-peak hours. (CBC)

The changes don't include community and school buses.

People living in the inner parts of the city said they want more frequent service while residents in outer areas said they want more buses during rush hour or peak service.

Riders talk

At transit terminals north and south of the river, riders all spoke of the need to have more frequent buses.

Mark Genest is a regular rider of the No. 9 bus.

"I'd be nice if it came every five minutes instead of every 15 minutes," he said.
Mark Genest, waiting for a No. 9 at the Kingsway transit centre, would like to see more frequent buses. (CBC)

He would also like to see the double-length, accordion-style buses running later than the current cut-off time of 6 p.m. When the regular sized buses start running again, "it kind of crams us in like sardines," he said.

Amanda Legare lives in Clareview and was getting off the bus at the University transit centre Thursday afternoon. 

"It takes a while to get anywhere," she said.
Amanda Legare says it takes an hour and a half to get to the University of Alberta from Clareview. (CBC)

She said it takes about an hour and a half to get to the Whyte Avenue area from Clareview.

"It's not very fast and that's kind of disappointing," she said.

She would like to see the buses from Clareview run every 15 to 30 minutes instead of every hour. 

Boost ridership

Besides improving service, the main reason behind the redesign to get more people to take transit.

"We believe this will increase ridership," Feldman said. "We've seen in other cities in North America that have recently done a comprehensive redesign of the network that their ridership is going up."

Overall transit ridership in Edmonton has been on a downward trend since 2013, with the city losing out on a projected $4.1 million in 2017 because of lower ridership.

From April 12 until June 14, Edmontonians can complete an online survey or attend a drop-in community workshop to help refine the draft bus route network. A total of 24 workshops will be held throughout the city.

For more information on workshop locations and times, and to complete the online survey, visit edmonton.ca/newbusroutes and click on "public engagement."

Transit staff will present a final redesign to council in 2019 before developing the new bus schedules. The revamped service is scheduled to start in summer of 2020.

The plan doesn't require additional buses or drivers and will not increase the transit budget, Feldman said.

The ETS operating budget in 2018 is $365 million.