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, says 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, this is stuff that’s been successful in other places and it has 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 city says people would be within a five to seven-minute walk of bus stops in 93 per cent of the city.
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 but 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 that 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 spent,” 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, 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.
The 15 passenger van is the most economical approach with the greatest public support, ETS says.
Robar said although that is the recommendation, it’s up to councillors to debate and decide whether to use private contract.
There’s no plan to privatize the entire transit system, he added.
Knack said councillors will discuss whether to provide service to these neighbourhoods during peak hours only or also on 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.