Edmonton Transit Service has done an analysis of its new bus network and has found there are gaps in its public transportation coverage.
Now, the administration is suggesting a pilot project to test the “first kilometre, last kilometre” concept and provide supplemental service for people whose bus stops are too far from their destination to walk.
“That’s an issue,” Coun. Sarah Hamilton said. “Something we hear a lot about. You have school specials that will take kids to and from school, but if you ever rode the bus with a school special or you had kids that rode the bus on the school special, you know that if they were in after-school programs, they couldn’t get a bus home after a certain hour.”
A city report identifies four locations where public transit coverage is lacking: Cameron Heights in the southwest, Brander Gardens and Aspen Gardens in the south and one industrial area in the northwest.
ETS management recommends running the pilot project as a way to test alternative service delivery models and figure out which works best.
However, getting a clear understanding of the problem and possible solutions was a challenge. Hamilton pushed to have the report released because city staff were only offering vague responses to questions about the plan.
“They can’t say… ‘These are the types of options you might be looking at, what is best suited to your neighbourhood,'” she said.
“They have to speak very abstractly about it. And going into public engagement, talking abstractions is not helpful.”
The report was able to offer some specifics.
“Locations are Cameron Heights/Wedgewood, northwest industrial, Brander Gardens/Brookside and Grandview/Lansdowne/Aspen Gardens,” it reads. “Administration recommends undertaking a pilot project as an appropriate next step to test alternative service delivery models.”
Suggested solutions to filling the transit service void include a review of car sharing, a possible public on-demand transit solution and a vehicle-for-hire program to help address the “first kilometre, last kilometre” challenge as well as other municipal public transit solutions.
The pilot project could be implemented at the same time as the launch of a new ETS bus network in mid-2020.
Hamilton said it’s important to help vulnerable transit users who aren’t able to walk a great distance get from their bus stop to their destination.
“Some form of an on-demand option, I think, is important to be talking about because we hear from people who depend upon transit for work, for their livelihoods, people who described it as giving them dignity,” the west Edmonton councillor said.
“You can’t turn your back on that.”
The concept of a “first kilometre, last kilometre” program sparked some criticism from the transit union when it was first introduced, however Hamilton says things are being ironed out.
“Something I’ve heard from people in this engagement so far has been that they want somebody who is a trained, uniformed bus driver, especially if they’re going to be dealing with vulnerable people or children, minors, so that sense of trust is really important.”
The report was made public by an urgent vote by city council so citizens can see it while the public consultation for new routes continues for a few days before it is finalized.