Just days after the city released a report suggesting changes to Edmonton’s transit system, local bus drivers held a rally at a south Edmonton transit garage to protest the proposed changes.
The plan features high-frequency routes closer to the city’s centre, with new crosstown routes and rapid-bus commuter routes (BRT) from the suburbs.
It also calls for increased service inside the Anthony Henday ring road, about a dozen express routes running between the suburbs and downtown, and fewer buses meandering through neighbourhoods. That means some transit users might have to walk farther to catch a bus.
The biggest sticking point for transit operators is the possibility of privatization of parts of the public transit system. One idea includes a partnership between the city and a private ride-share company to combat low ridership is some areas of the city.
“We don’t believe that public funds should be going to support private companies,” said Damir Begovic, vice-president of operations with ATU Local 569.
The union has proposed several solutions, including a ‘dial-a-bus’ for low-service areas and BRT rapid-bus transit for high-frequency areas. They also want the city to improve bus schedules, something the union said hasn’t been done in at least 20 years.
“The city is talking about doing a partnership with one of the ride-share companies and off setting the costs with one of these companies. Well, do they have wheelchair-accessible vehicles? What about a mother with children and groceries? Do they have carseats?” said Denise Meyer, an Edmonton Transit community bus driver.
Meyer said over 23 shifts have already been cut from community service routes, which are routes that travel out into the neighbourhoods and have fewer riders.
“Those passengers need that bus,” Meyer added. “We have given them suggestions to help alleviate this issue without cancelling service completely.”
“Certainly I want to make sure that no one at ETS loses their jobs or positions because of anything we’re doing as far as changing the system with ETS going from frequency in some areas to less ridership in others,” Councillor Tony Caterina said. “It’s something we’ve been working on for the past six or seven years.”
“Our small buses are probably the biggest concern for me right now. Those drivers really need to be taken care of right now — there’s about 40-50 of those drivers that cannot drive a big bus. They’ve got a class 4 licence, which means that they would have to be trained and get their new licensing in order to move to a bigger bus. So that’s a concern,” Caterina added.
Edmonton’s transit strategy is scheduled to go to council committee on July 5.