Edmonton councillor confident regional transit plan will move forward without Strathcona County
Second-largest transit system in the region rejects plan
The plan for a single transit system to serve the capital region isn't dead yet, despite Strathcona County declining to participate, says an Edmonton councillor.
On Tuesday, Strathcona councillors voted unanimously against joining 12 other Edmonton-region municipalities on the Regional Transit Service Commission.
Coun. Michael Walters, co-chair of the Regional Transit Services Commission, said Wednesday the rejection won't kill the plan.
While Strathcona County's decision was disappointing, Walters said it was not surprising.
"They have a pretty strong view of how great their system is in their minds and it's a good system no doubt," Walters said.
Walters maintains the system would give Strathcona an opportunity to keep the same service it currently provides at "basically the same cost" but with opportunities for improvement.
"They're very proud of their transit system," Walters said. "They were always a bit skeptical of the value of letting go of some autonomy and control over a system that they're very proud of. So that's their right as elected representatives of that community to make that choice."
Edmonton Coun. Bev Esslinger said she's still confident in the regional plan's future, which she said will make the best use of limited resources for the region.
"I don't think it jeopardizes [the plan]," Esslinger said. "It's going to be made up of those who participate, and I think those who participate will benefit."
Strathcona County Mayor Rod Frank said the proposal didn't offer savings or guarantee improvements.
"It seems like it may have been a way to create more efficient transit, but when we took a look at the details, there wasn't much in it for us," Frank said in an Edmonton AM interview Wednesday.
Frank said on Twitter on Tuesday that he doesn't see value in creating "a new level of government."
He also worried the commission would expand its scope to incorporate things like LRT for which Strathcona County residents would have to pay for, and that a municipality couldn't exit the system without approval from two-thirds of the board.
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Frank said it's still possible Strathcona County could join another integrated transit plan in the future.
"We're not rejecting regional transit out of hand," Frank said. "In fact we think we can accomplish this just by picking up the telephone and speaking municipality to municipality."
But Edmonton Coun. Aaron Paquette said he understood Strathcona County's point of view. He said it would be easier for them to relinquish control of their transit system if Edmonton's system was better funded and a more attractive option to integrate into.
"If it makes no difference to them and they already invest into an excellent system, the question they have to ask is why ... invest in a regional system," he said.
Paquette said he's also hesitant about Edmonton losing some autonomy over its system.
An idea like eliminating transit fare could be more difficult to accomplish within a system of 13 municipalities instead of one council, he said.
Councils for each of the municipalities have until the end of March to vote on whether they want to participate in the formal request. Edmonton's council is scheduled to vote on the issue on Feb. 19.
Other municipalities voting whether to participate are:
- City of Beaumont
- Town of Devon
- City of Fort Saskatchewan
- City of Leduc
- Leduc County
- Town of Morinville
- Parkland County
- City of Spruce Grove
- City of St. Albert
- Town of Stony Plain
- Sturgeon County
According to a report released by the commission in January, a regional system would make transit more efficient and save municipalities around $3.4 million per year by the time it's fully aligned in 2026.