Councillor says Edmonton Transit audit shows need for culture shift

File: Edmonton's Light Rail Transit.
File: Edmonton's Light Rail Transit. File, Global News

Edmonton Transit needs to be run more like a business, according to Councillor Mike Nickel, after reviewing an audit that he describes as “scathing.”

Nickel points to a key finding by city auditor David Wiun who reports “overall ridership decreased from 89 million in 2014 to 87 million in 2018. There has also been a decrease in the number of riders who pay full fares to ride transit, and a corresponding increase in the number of riders who receive reduced fares through various ETS discount programs and U-Pass.”

“ETS has become a money pit,” Nickel told Global News ahead of Friday afternoon’s meeting of the Audit Committee.

“When does this insanity stop? Right now transit isn’t working for so many people on so many levels.”

The audit calculated lost revenue from various sponsor programs including “Green and Go,” using Edmonton Eskimo game tickets as a free pass for the LRT to Commonwealth Stadium, another for the Heritage Festival and one more for University of Alberta staff.

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The audit estimates transit to and from football games costs the city $907,000 to operate, yet only generates $156,000 in revenue; Heritage Festival $722,000 in expenses on $349,000 revenue; and for U of A staff, $301,000 in revenue with no reliable measurement for the cost.

“These are all good things,” Nickel said about the concept behind those programs.

“Now we just know how much they cost. So once you’ve actually got a number there you can think about how you mitigate that cost. If it’s Heritage Days, for example, then let me go find some corporate sponsors and maybe we can start subsidizing from a different sector. But I didn’t know that number until this audit came up. That’s why you’ve got to measure things.”

Watch below: A new city audit says the Edmonton Transit Service must do a better job of ensuring people pay their fares and finding new revenue streams. Fletcher Kent reports.

Click to play video 'New audit says ETS must do more to ensure users pay their fares' New audit says ETS must do more to ensure users pay their fares
New audit says ETS must do more to ensure users pay their fares – Aug 27, 2019

U-Pass is an even bigger problem on two fronts. The report documents no rationale for the reported volume of on-campus sales, and it indicated fraud and fare evasion involving U-Passes that are re-sold to riders who aren’t eligible for the discount.

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Among the questions Nickel said he’ll be asking is, how ETS measures things.

“It’s a whole culture that puts the transit user as a cost driver as opposed to a customer,” he said in an interview. “Our problem here is we cut back routes, we raise our fares and we expect more people to take transit. That’s not how you get customers.

“It’s not just the culture at ETS, it’s the culture of the city,” Nickel added. “ETS does not make money, but you can run it more business-like. That means you don’t have to lose as much money as you’re losing right now.

“We need to reinvest in basic services. People that want to take the bus should get to the bus but increasing your distance between bus stops and so on, and cutting back routes? This is crazy.”