A newly approved commission of eight Edmonton-area municipalities is now looking for a CEO to oversee a transition to regional transit services.
Edmonton, Beaumont, Devon, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, St. Albert, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain have all joined forces to provide better public transit options for residents across municipal borders.
“The intention is for someone who lives in Fort Saskatchewan to get on a bus there and be able to seamlessly travel to Leduc, for example, or to the airport,” explained the commission’s interim chair, St. Albert Councillor Wes Brodhead.
“And all without having to worry about different bus passes, different fares, or even getting on a different bus.”
A business analysis found about $3.4 million could be saved annually when the program is fully up and running, just by removing duplicate routes.
“There are many instances today where you will have an Edmonton Transit bus, a St. Albert bus and a Spruce Grove bus all driving down the same roads, at the same time, going to the same destination.”
Regional transit is a huge opportunity for the Town of Devon, Mayor Ray Ralph said. Currently, public transit doesn’t exist there.
“Unfortunately, as an individual or one local municipality, we could not feasibly or financially afford to do so,” Ralph said.
He thinks having bus services could entice young adults to continue living in Devon after they graduate high school.
“Because the first thing they do if they don’t have a car is move away,” Ralph explained.
Stony Plain intends to launch its own local transit system this spring, but councillor Justin Laurie said the town still recognizes the benefits of working with neighbouring communities.
“We’re looking forward to the commission actually allowing us to actually accelerate and enhance the service to our community much quicker and much better than we would be able to do on our own,” he said.
Edmonton’s representative on the commission, Ward 10 councillor Michael Walters, said there’s common-sense benefits for ETS riders too.
“Edmontonians also like to travel to other municipalities in the region. It’s not just about people who come into Edmonton,” he said.
But the proposal is not without concerns.
Thirteen municipalities started out on the commission and now only eight remain. Most notably missing is Strathcona County, whose buses are a regular fixture in Edmonton.
The transit union is also worried.
ATU Local 569 represents 2,600 employees. Its president, Steve Bradshaw, said employees want to be part of the program, but so far, have been ignored.
“They’re afraid for their jobs – and rightfully so.
“If they’re not talking to us, it’s because they don’t have anything good to say to us.”
The plan is to start the regional service in the fall of 2022.