*UPDATE: On Sept. 12, both cities announced they signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a Regional Transit Services Commission.*
The cities of Edmonton and St. Albert are one step closer to creating a joint transit system.
For the past year, a task force made up of representatives from both cities has been working on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to create a Regional Transit Services Commission (RTSC).
That MOU will be presented to the two city councils next week. Both councils will need to approve Phase 1 of the RTSC memo for it to proceed further.
The MOU includes goals and objectives, operating principles, a governance model for making decisions and a weighted voting structure that reflects the balance of interests and ridership, as well as a revenue model.
“The MOU focuses on regional commuter transit between the two communities,” the report said.
It will deal with local transit services within each community not operated by the new RTSC. Other transit services like the Disabled Adult Transit Service (DATS) and LRT are not part of the new RTSC.
“Each community will assess benefits of regional approach before considering integrating any other transit services,” the report said.
St. Albert City Council will vote on Monday. Edmonton City Council will vote on Tuesday at its final regular council meeting before breaking for the election.
Phase 2 of the process will create detailed planning for the RTSC.
The second phase of bringing together the two systems will be worked on through next year, with 2019 the target for a merged service.
“A baby step, in the sense, that today we’re just approving a memo between two municipalities,” Mayor Don Iveson told reporters. “But it opens a door certainly for Edmonton and St. Albert to move towards an integrated system in short- to medium-term, but for others to come in, in the beginning stage too.”
Iveson said there is some duplication in routes, so this will allow both cities to spend more smartly on transit.
“The objective here is to provide better transit services with the resources we have,” he said.
Later in the process, other municipalities will be able to join.
“Quite honestly, the rest of the region is interested,” St. Albert Coun. Wes Broadhead said. “But it took a coalition of the willing to get it going. Now that we’ve come this far, I think people are starting to say, ‘hey this is an actual possibility that may occur.'”
“It was gratifying to sit around a table with people whose vision incorporated a successful region. We did get further, faster than we thought we would,” Broadhead said.
There are still plenty of things to sort out. There’s the matter of start-up costs that Broadhead pegged at $2.0 million in year one, and $1.7 million in the second year that they’ll approach the province on.
Then there’s some labour integration that will need to be worked through, where Edmonton Transit employees are unionized while in St. Albert they are contract employees.
“Certainly there are transition issues,” Iveson said, “but there are lots of rules governing that, that look after fairness to employees.”
The plan is to launch the RTSC in 2019 as Phase 3 of the agreement.
What’s still to come is the creation of a transition committee to plan the structure and budget for the RTSC, a transition plan for the current regional transit services that are in place, and then send an application to the Government of Alberta to make the RTSC operational.
St. Albert Transit (or StAT) officially began in the mid 1980s. It currently has about one million users a year, many of whom make trips to and from Edmonton.