The Edmonton Transit Service has been the cause of much discourse over the years, often for its weaknesses. However, that might be changing for the better all because of a collaboration between eight municipalities.
On Jan. 28, 2021, the Government of Alberta approved the Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Services Commission. This change will allow Alberta Capital Region municipalities to develop a joint transit system.
“The commission brings the cities of Edmonton, Beaumont, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove, and St. Albert and the towns of Devon and Stony Plain together under one umbrella to provide integrated public transit services to residents of the metropolitan Edmonton region,” said Ric McIver, minister of transportation in a public announcement.
The Transit Service Commission (TSC), whose first step will be to recruit a chief executive officer, will run independently from the provincial and municipal governments, with one elected official from each of the eight municipalities working along with the CEO. The TSC aims to help integrate towns, create economic growth, and provide citizens with the flexibility of getting where they need to go through a more streamlined transit system.
One town that will benefit significantly from the new inte grated transit system is the town of Devon, which does not currently have a transit system. “In a small community of 6,700 people, we couldn’t afford to operate our own transit services, so working with the region and the other seven municipalities, it makes it a lot more affordable,” says mayor Ray Ralph.
A big concern that Ralph feels the new transit system will resolve is the need to get around, more specifically for students and seniors in the community requiring trips to Edmonton. “If you do not have a vehicle of some type, you’re pretty well stuck in the town of Devon. Without any transit you can’t get to the airport, you can’t get into the city, or catch up to the LRT. So if you’re a student, for example, and you graduate from Grade 12 most of the people that want to go to university to further their education end up moving out of the town because they just have no way to get to school,” says Ralph.
An underlying benefit comes in the form of affordable housing, which Devon has plenty of, but the lack of public transportation may stop people from choosing the town as their home. Ralph says that with joint transit, people in all municipalities will have more options for where they work and where they live.
Aside from easing the commute from one municipality to another, this new venture may also be cost-effective for transit users. Ralph says, “The goal of the transit commission and the people sitting around the table is to have a common fare or a pass for the region so you can get on a bus in Devon and go to Fort Saskatchewan.”
The overall cost of operations is also lowered by amalgam ating the separate systems and ending overlap. “There are many instances today where you will have an Edmonton transit bus, St. Albert bus, or even Spruce Grove bus all driving down the same roads at the same time going to the same destination, and those duplications of services can be eliminated through the process of integrating the systems where we will then have one bus going to the same place serving all residents of the region to get to that destination …. When we’re all set up and fully functioning we will save the region $2.2 million annually,” says Wes Brodhead, councillor for St. Albert and chair of the commission’s interim board. However, what isn’t yet clear is how the overlapping may be affected by municipalities such as Sherwood Park that have their own buses but choose to remain outside the commission.
With the population growth of 3 million projected by 2065, the TSC will be better equipped to provide adequate services for the changing times.
“An increase to that population comes with an increase in cost to operate and an increase in services required. So those are all things that we look at as a region. How do we handle this type of influx of population, and are our roads or transportation systems going to be supported,” says Ralph.
He believes that with eight municipalities collaborating, growth will be more manageable as the cost is spread out and citizens are offered better service. “We need to have growth, we need to have smart growth, and this is the next step in allowing some more growth to happen because it will open up the door to a whole new population and demographic that we couldn’t offer to before this,” he says.
Still, a lot of work is left to be done. Although Ralph says that there has been a lot done on the back end of things, there was plenty that the municipalities couldn’t start on until the commission was approved. Now the work to finalize details can begin. But the issue of joint transit is only the beginning, says Ralph. “I think you’re going to see a lot more cooperation and collabora tion with a lot more than just transit in the future because, well, there are only so many tax dollars … we can work together and do better than what we’re doing today.”
For the time being, as the region waits to see what announce ments and changes will happen in the months to come, many will feel relief as they gain freedom and opportunity in the form of transportation that doesn’t require the expense of owning, insuring, fuelling, and repairing a vehicle.
Throughout this announcement, there has been a sense of accomplishment and immense excitement from each of the eight municipalities as they see the work they have put in reap rewards. More so is the feeling that there is real accessibility for the citizens who currently have no or minimal possibilities.
“I really, myself personally, couldn’t come up with any nega tives unless you don’t want to see transit … the only people that may be looking at this as a waste of our tax dollars are the ones that would never use it and don’t feel there’s any benefit to them personally. That would be the only people that I could see, but if they look at the broader picture and for the future and for our residents and everything, you know there’s nothing but positives in my opinion,” says Ralph.