Councillor sets ambitious target to get people to ride Edmonton Transit

An ETS bus drives down Whyte Avenue in Edmonton on Wednesday, Oct., 5, 2016. Vinesh Pratap, Global News

Andrew Knack wants to see ridership on Edmonton Transit quadruple over the next 10 years.

The city councillor spoke openly of setting that ambitious goal during Monday’s meeting of executive committee, however, he watered down comments after some urging from city staff when he made a motion to increase ridership without setting firm timelines or even targets.

“What would have to happen in the city of Edmonton for us to achieve 40 per cent ridership?” Knack wondered aloud with reporters prior to making the official motion. “We heard some suggestions to make it free. Interestingly enough, making it free might change our ridership from nine per cent to 12 per cent, so if we wanted to hit 40 per cent, what are the steps?

“What’s the infrastructure that we need to have in place? What’s the service level we need to provide to get that many people onto our transit system?”

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The committee rejected several presenters from the public who asked for free transit as a way of getting more riders.

Knack said based on surveys he has read, price is not what keeps most people in their cars.

“Not one of the people who said they don’t use transit said price is a barrier for them to using it right now,” he said. “The issue is the time it takes.

“If we’re going to see our ridership increase from nine per cent, we need to make it far more competitive with driving right now, and it’s nowhere close to that.”

“Ridership — not rides [but] ridership — hasn’t changed in 25 years,” Councillor Tony Caterina said. “Since 1995, it’s been nine per cent of riders.”

Caterina quoted a former branch manager for transportation who said Edmonton needs a population of two-million people to reach the kind of ridership levels seen in Toronto and Vancouver.

Mayor Don Iveson said making the system dramatically better is what’s needed, and he hopes to see that when the new routes are rolled out next summer.

READ MORE: Edmonton Transit Service to formally introduce redesigned system Thursday

“The big move is actually bus network redesign, and I won’t prejudice that discussion (Tuesday), but the reports all point to the fact that without a fundamental overhaul of the service itself, everything else is on the margins.”

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The network redesign removes 100 routes and redirects buses to achieve high-frequency service aimed at cutting commute times.

“Transit is the lifeblood of a good city,” said Councillor Aaron Paquette, who added it can help seniors and young people who don’t want to own cars.

“It’s one of the least sexy discussions you can have in the city — ‘Are you going to ride the bus or not?’ — [but it] is also one of the most important,” he said.

“It’s so important to the upcoming generation. They are changing the way they want to live.”

Council’s urban planning committee will review how the system works and then both that report and the one on fares will go to the full city council for ratification.