Edmonton to roll out revamped bus network by next summer

Edmontonians can expect a new and improved transit system by August 2020, Edmonton Transit Service announced Thursday. 

'This is not revolutionary stuff,' transit manager says

Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board wants to make transit inclusive and safe for BIPOC individuals. On Tuesday, they presented Urban Planning Committee with three recommendations on how to make that happen. (Codie McLachlan/CBC)

Edmontonians can expect a new and improved transit system by August 2020, Edmonton Transit Service announced Thursday. 

The city's been working on a system redesign for about five years and this week released several reports outlining how it will work.

Major changes are planned to the number and frequency of bus routes — the current 240 routes will be reduced to 140. 

Eddie Robar, manager of ETS, said overhauling the city's transit system was a long time coming but the redesign is similar to what other cities are doing. 

"This is not revolutionary stuff," he said. "This is stuff that people do in other cities, this is stuff that's been successful in other places and it's had great impact, so that gives me the confidence we're doing the right thing."

Robar said the city had a chance to review several other jurisdictions to come up with a network that's "safe, fast, convenient and reliable," to encourage more people to take transit. 

The redesign would see eight routes running every 15 minutes or faster in inner areas of the city. Six crosstown routes would connect communities on the outer edges without travelling through downtown. 

    The majority of riders — 93 per cent of the city's addresses — would be within a five to seven-minute walk of bus stops, the city says. 

    The new system is meant to accommodate the city's current population of one million people, and be ready for the estimated two million in the future. 

    The current system is based on a population of 400,000.

    While there hasn't been a decision on fare charges, Robar said the city is likely to include distance-based fares, where a rider pays according to the distance they travel. 

    The city's long-awaited smart fare system is likely to be rolled out about the same time.

    Coun. Andrew Knack said an overhauled network has been a long time coming, noting the city's current transit system is more than 20 years old. 

    "It shouldn't be a shock that we have quite low ridership for the amount of money we spend," Knack said. 

    About 13 per cent of Edmontonians take transit, he said, while the city spends $360 million a year on it. 

    "What we hear from that 87 per cent is that it's not viewed as a viable option right now, so we needed to do something different." 

    Robar said the proposed overhaul isn't "reinventing the wheel," but that it took time for the "stars to align," to move it forward.

    "You need a public that's ready for a service change, you need a council that's ready for it, you need a city administration that's ready to take it on," Robar said. "This is not easy work."

    Filling the gaps

    Under the new design, more than two dozen neighbourhoods would lose their current fixed routes.

    In a related report called First/Last km, ETS suggests several options to fill those gaps for areas like Aspen Gardens, Avonmore, Cameron Heights, Cloverdale, Kenilworth, King Edward Park, Rio Terrace/Quesnell Heights, and Wedgewood Heights.

    The options include on-demand passenger van service, ride hailing services like Uber or Lyft or maintaining fixed routes during peak hours. 

    The 15-seat on-demand passenger vans would be delivered by a private service provider under contract. 

    Customers would book a trip using an app, online or by phone. The driver would pick up passengers from designated stops and take them to the nearest transit centre or bus stop.

    Robar said although that is the recommendation, it's up to councillors to debate and decide whether to use private business.

    Eddie Robar, manager of Edmonton Transit Service, said the city looked at transit systems in other jurisdictions before deciding on the proposed bus network redesign. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

    There's no plan to privatize the entire transit system, he added. 

    The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 569, Mark Tetterington, thinks the city should offer a public on-demand passenger van, not private.

    "I think public is obviously the best," Tetterington said Thursday. "Our operators are well trained, they're respectful, they're safe, they have high, high standards of training and expectations from the City of Edmonton."

    Knack said councillors will discuss whether to provide service to these neighbourhoods during peak hours only or also during off-peak hours. 

    For example, using the on-demand passenger van for peak hours only is estimated to cost nearly $3.2 million a year, while providing peak and off-peak hours is estimated to cost $5.2 million. 

    Knack suggested the on-demand passenger vans may provide better service, likening it to a kind of modern-day version of a dial-a-bus. 

    "It's not always going to be a 30-minute wait," Knack said. "In all likelihood that would be an enhanced level of service for those areas from what they used to have under the fixed-route service."

    The city's executive committee is scheduled to discuss reports on growing ridership and the city's fare policy at a meeting Nov. 18.

    The urban planning committee is scheduled to discuss the overall bus network redesign and options for communities losing service at a meeting Nov. 19.



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