Edmonton transit use low as city set to launch bus redesign

About nine per cent of people in Edmonton take public transit on a regular basis and one city councillor wants that to inch closer to 40 per cent in the coming years. 

Edmonton's ridership about nine per cent compared to Vancouver's 40 per cent

City of Edmonton's new bus network is set to launch in August 2020. (CBC)

About nine per cent of people in Edmonton take public transit on a regular basis and one city councillor wants that to edge closer to 40 per cent in the coming years. 

"Our ridership is quite a bit lower than what we would like," Coun. Andrew Knack said Monday at city hall. "That is a very disappointing number."

At an executive committee meeting, Knack suggested city administration look at other cities to help determine what it would take for Edmonton to get there. 

"The fact that Vancouver can achieve 40 per cent ridership on its transit system because they're running a frequent network that gets people where they want to go would suggest to me that people view that as a viable and attractive option for them." 

A city report shows ridership in Edmonton has dropped since 2013 when there were 89 million trips a year compared to 87 million trips in 2018. 

"A target like that is an aggressive one," Eddie Robar, manager of Edmonton Transit Service, said. 

Robar didn't dismiss it. 

However, councillors directed administration to look at doubling or tripling ridership in the "short-to-medium term" without setting the 40 per cent goal, seen as too lofty by some. 

The discussion about future transit comes as the city released several reports this month outlining the new bus network set to start in August, 2020. 

Councillors must decide on updated targets and fares. 

Coun. Tony Caterina had suggested it may not be realistic for Edmonton to have the same goals as cities with double the population, like Toronto that gets 65 per cent return on investment in public transit or Vancouver that sees 40 per cent ridership. 

Caterina pointed out that ridership has remained the same from 1995 to 2015. 

"With all the plans and goodwill and wishes that's gone on for a number of decades, we keep ending up at that nine per cent," Caterina said during the meeting. "There's got to be something different that we should be doing here because this all sounds the same." 

Robar said the new bus redesign is different in terms of improving safety, service and performance.

"We're taking an aggressive approach to how we kind of lump all of this together," Robar said. 

Quality and cost

The city aims to increase ridership through various improvements, including the bus network redesign, improved safety, replacing buses, better marketing and smart fare technology coming online. 

Coun. Ben Henderson stressed that improving quality of service is key to attracting more people who are willing to pay to take transit. 

"There's a point at which creating better service and having the resources to create better service, understanding and then figuring out where your fare sits in there, may be more powerful in terms of getting people out of their cars."

Enticing more people to take public transit will also help the city reach its climate goals, councillors agree. 

Henderson said he's worried that the city is now charging too much, which may discourage some people to get on the bus or LRT. 

Currently, a one-way fare is $3.50 and a monthly pass is $97.00 for adults. Prices are among the highest in the country, Knack noted. 

Knack rejected the idea of raising prices. 

"I would hate to see us increase that fare," he said. "The more you increase, the more the ridership can go down.

"The number one thing we've got to fix is providing a service that's comparable to that of driving," Knack said. "And it's nowhere close right now particularly the further out you go in our city." 

Seniors and smart fare system

The city is creating a policy for future fares in correlation with the smart fare system set to launch next fall. 

One option will see seniors pay 65 per cent of the regular fare — about $65 a month. Currently seniors pay about 15 per cent of the regular fare. 

The new fare policy would introduce two other tiers for low income seniors, suggesting lower-income seniors pay a maximum of $35 monthly.

Council's urban planning committee is scheduled to review the bus network redesign in depth at a meeting Tuesday. 

Administration will present fare options for the 2019-2022 budget. The new fees would come into effect in February 2020. 



Natasha Riebe


Natasha Riebe landed at CBC News in Edmonton after radio, TV and print journalism gigs in Halifax, Seoul, Yellowknife and on Vancouver Island. Please send tips in confidence to natasha.riebe@cbc.ca.