Edmonton to test on-demand transit service

A file photo of Edmonton's skyline from Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. Global News File

City council’s urban planning committee has approved the launch of a pilot project to expand the new Edmonton transit system with an “on-demand” service enhancement.

Called “first mile, last mile” in some cities, the idea that was voted on Tuesday would give riders the ability to get to their final destination after the new bus network is established at the end of August 2020, although the rollout for this would come sometime after that.

While the pilot project could roll out in a number of different ways, one example would be a private bus company being hired by the city to bring commuters home after they’ve arrived at the transit stop closest to where they live.

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Coun. Tim Cartmell, the chair of the committee, said the pilot would be a contracted service model, “and that the transition of these services to a public service model be examined within two years of commencement of service.”

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City staff told the committee that using a contractor in the early stages would allow for the acquisition of vehicles more quickly than if the city had to go out and purchase them, then staff them with ETS employees.

Sarah Feldman, the city’s director of planning and scheduling, said they’ll work with the winning applicant to sort through a service schedule. Five companies have responded to a request for proposal.

“We’ll talk it through within a certain budget envelope — what we can achieve in terms of a service level,” she told the committee after being asked if the service would be on an hourly basis or something shorter than that.

ETS branch manager Eddie Robar said the transit service is already mapping out ways to judge the pilot.

“Certainly, customer satisfaction being one of them,” he said. “The feeling of safety and security of the vehicles themselves. Obviously the ridership — the impact on the service and connectivity to our network, looking at that and trending where that’s going is certainly something we’d track as well.”

Coun. Michael Walters said when the plan was first contemplated, he got some pushback from his Ward 10 constituents because they couldn’t visualize what the service would look like.

“A van was going to roll up and you’d get in a side door and you’d be crawling over people and sitting really close — next to strangers — and it wasn’t a very comforting possibility, I think, for folks.”

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On Tuesday, Walters asked if the vehicle would be similar to the small 30-foot buses that are used in off-hours now.

John Stepovy is with Pacific Western Transportation, which operates in Calgary and is one of the five service providers to participate in the request for proposal. He said it would be similar.

“Individual seats. Everyone has a seat. No one has to climb over one another. There’s an aisle. It’s a transit-specific bus.”

Coun. Andrew Knack has been asking for this for a couple of years.

“For me, I’m actually really excited about the idea of on-demand,” he said. “I think there’s an opportunity there as our transit system evolves, and as people want different options, to move throughout our city — this may start filling in a gap that we haven’t been able to with our transit system.

“Obviously this is going to be a pilot, so we’ll have a couple of years to see how it works. It seems like it’s working well in other cities and I feel like there’s a lot of potential here.”

The committee opted for a service package that would see the cost per ride come in at $20.88. The report pegs the operating cost at $12.6 million, with capital costs at $9 million. It would operate almost 3,000 hours a week, with 77 vehicles on the road.

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READ MORE: With deadline looming, city council sorts out confusion over Edmonton Transit Service fares

The new bus schedule will hit the streets on Aug. 30.

Watch below: Some Global News videos about public transit in Edmonton.

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