'It requires courage,' Edmonton mayor says as new bus system is scheduled to launch

A radically revamped bus system, with 100 fewer routes but better service during peak hours and weekends, will be implemented next summer in all corners of the Edmonton, city council decided at a meeting Tuesday.

Council voted 8-5 in favour of the network redesign launching next summer. Councillors voting against were Mo Banga, Jon Dziadyk, Sarah Hamilton, Tony Caterina and Mike Nickel. 

The reduction in the number of routes being cut — under the new network, the routes will go from about 240 to 140 — is the biggest concern cited by councillors. 

Caterina said he’s heard from constituents who will be forced to walk farther distances to get to a bus stop. 

The city says the new system will have more buses on main routes during peak hours as well as on weekends and in the evenings. 

“[It’s] a little bit contradictory here that we’re eliminating some routes — 100 of them — how that goes toward convenience, which in my mind it doesn’t,” Caterina said. “I hope that what we lose in this, we gain back in the frequency.” 

But Mayor Don Iveson, who said he is resigned to there being “no perfect transit system,” referred to the overhaul as a reorganization, instead of making cuts. 

“It requires courage to face the fact that making a change is significant,” the mayor said about the plan.  “If the results are even half as good as I anticipate they will be, it will have been worth it.”

Councillors also disagree on how the network should be rolled out. 

Coun. Andrew Knack supports the blanket rollout planned by ETS, instead of implementing changes in different quadrants over four years as had been previously proposed.

“This is going to be a jarring change,” Knack said during the meeting.

“[For] someone who’s going to struggle to learn the new service, I’d rather them struggle once,” he said. “Hopefully, through good communication, a good rollout we can mitigate that concern.”

Coun. Mike Nickel encouraged a rollout done in phases, calling public transit is an essential service like police and fire department. 

“I continue to express my deep concern about leaving people behind, I think that is what’s going to happen.” 

ETS managers recommend filling the gap in communities losing service with an on-demand passenger van service. They recommend contracting that service to private companies. 

The city should know more about how the on-demand service will work when ETS returns in February to give councillors a detailed breakdown. 

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