‘We’ll fix this’: Edmonton mayor responds to overcrowding on transit after COVID-19 schedule changes

Click to play video: 'Tuesday morning transit troubles lead to new service changes in Edmonton after COVID-19 reduction'
Tuesday morning transit troubles lead to new service changes in Edmonton after COVID-19 reduction
WATCH ABOVE: The City of Edmonton responded to a series of complaints Tuesday from transit users, after it had announced a switch to Saturday service schedule due to COVID-19. As Vinesh Pratap explains, the fewer buses led to more crowds and concerns from passengers – Mar 17, 2020

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson apologized after a decision from the City of Edmonton to limit transit schedules in response to COVID-19 led to overcrowding on some buses Tuesday.

In a tweet, Iveson said he has heard concerns about the service adjustments and that he is “sorry about this.”

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Messages and photos began circulating Tuesday morning of packed buses.

The city had announced on Monday that schedules would be limited to a Saturday schedule all week, in an effort to reduce spread of COVID-19.

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin said Monday Edmonton had seen a 22 per cent decrease in transit ridership and he expected that to increase due to school classes being cancelled.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton changes public transit service in response to COVID-19'
Edmonton changes public transit service in response to COVID-19

WATCH ABOVE: (Monday, March 16) The City of Edmonton has announced schedule changes to transit in response to COVID-19. Vinesh Pratap has more.

“If we reduce the number of buses and LRT on our city streets, we can further increase the level of cleaning and disinfecting taking place on these critical services that Edmontonians rely on,” Iveson had said Monday.

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On Tuesday, Laughlin said the city would be making service changes immediately, as of Tuesday afternoon.

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“We heard you. That wasn’t what we wanted you to experience. We are responding quickly,” he said.

He said Tuesday morning’s commute was not what the city anticipated. Officials thought more people would stay home.

While ridership was down 49 per cent, there were pinch points on some routes at peak times, Laughlin said.

Some buses passed people at stops waiting for a ride.

“As a result, Edmontonians called 311 to report that buses had passed them by,” Laughlin said. “They circulated pictures of crowded buses and LRT cars on social media, and they contacted their councillors about their concerns.”

The city is making adjustments, he said, and working on right balance, the right number of buses on the road.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton transit will be ‘quick’ to adjust service as demand changes due to COVID-19'
Edmonton transit will be ‘quick’ to adjust service as demand changes due to COVID-19

For Tuesday afternoon, the city will add more buses during peak times (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.) and more vehicles on the road to decrease crowding on busy routes. The city will add buses on 10 routes and have bus additional buses on standby at various locations to respond to overcrowding or bumps in demand.

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  • Additional buses will be added to the 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 15, 17 and 112 routes
  • Peak-level services will be added back to the 16 Express, 80, 83, 84, 92, 95, 122, 137, 182, 331 routes
  • Earlier morning service will be added to the 100 route

“These are unprecedented times,” Laughlin said. “And we are figuring things out minute by minute and hour by hour.”

Laughlin said the city will recalibrate the ride home Tuesday and at night, officials will review and adjust service again as required.

“Decisions that we make on transit and other critical services or key services, we do have to keep our eyes on the longer term as it relates to working through this curve of pandemic. So the decisions that we made around going to the Saturday service were directly related to that, and they were also directly related to the drop in transit ridership that we observed from one Monday to the next.”

He asked anyone who can “avoid peak hours by travelling earlier or later, please do so.”

Edmonton is extending the March ETS pass for low-income passengers to April.

Click to play video: 'Kenney explains the impact of declaring a public health emergency over COVID-19'
Kenney explains the impact of declaring a public health emergency over COVID-19

Edmonton activates Emergency Operations Centre

Laughlin also announced Edmonton is activating its emergency operations centre.

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“Following the province’s lead today, I am announcing that we are activating our emergency operations centre and we will continue to operate closely with the provincial operations centre to ensure that we are harmonizing our work and working together to keep Albertans and Edmontonians as safe as possible.”

Officials said the centre allows officials to speed up decision making.

“It is a dedicated facility staffed by city employees who are trained in emergency management,” Deputy Chief Rob Squire said. “The purpose of activating the Emergency Operations Centre is to ensure that we are able to operate and deliver services to ensure the safety of our citizens and that the city can continue to deliver its critical and vital services during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

Iveson said Edmonton’s Emergency Advisory Committee would convene at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

He said members would discuss Alberta calling a public health emergency, the implications of the province’s decision, the city’s role and any steps the city needs to take.

“I want to underscore that it’s not a foregone conclusion that the city will need to or that the circumstances warrant the declaration of a state of local emergency, but that option is always available to us.”

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