The proposed Bus Network Redesign has been the source of much discussion and community-led engagement in Ward 5 over the past several months. Some Ward 5 residents are rightly concerned about how this change could impact their travel patterns and their access to our transit network, and given the current uncertainty from a process perspective I would like to offer some information as to where we are today on this issue.
The last time our bus map was redesigned was back in the 1990’s, and quite clearly Edmonton has evolved and changed drastically in the interim. Based on this reality, and based on extensive public engagement with over 20,000 Edmontonians, the previous City Council endorsed the idea of redesigning the transit system with an eye on delivering good service to as many Edmontonians as possible while making best use of existing dollars.
I stopped using public transit when I started working because I felt the busses to be inconsistent, which made getting to work on time challenging. I didn’t like the winding cross-town routes or the long stop overs, and service to my neighbourhood stopped after six; if I needed to stay late at work, I wouldn’t be able to take the bus home. I recognize my choice to use transit is a privilege that is not afforded to everyone, but these are just some of the challenges that beleaguer thousands of transit users across the City under our current bus network. We need to acknowledge that that status quo for our overall transit system is untenable.
Our transit resources are being stretched further and further every year as we reconcile growth with the associated service demands. High-traffic bus routes are operating beyond capacity, in some cases having to turn away passengers, while other routes see empty or sparsely filled buses run through the day. Something has to change. And we need to think differently about how transit services are provided in neighbourhoods with low ridership.
This brings me to the First Kilometre/Last Kilometre Study. While a first for Edmonton, many other cities deal with similar resource and ridership challenges and have implemented measures to help solve the first kilometre/last kilometre challenge. My colleagues and I gave City Administration a clear directive in January to expand the scope of what was being considered with respect to alternative solutions and implementation areas, and in November 2019 we will receive a report that builds upon the work that we have already seen and spoken to on Council. As a result, the broader vote on the Bus Network Redesign has been pushed to early 2020 so that we can make our decision understanding the full impacts. This is something I was firm on; I would not be comfortable voting on a redesign of the bus network without understanding first what kinds of practical solutions would be implemented in areas that could lose fixed bus service.
I sat in on a handful of well-attended public engagement sessions last November with Edmonton Transit Service in some of the Ward 5 communities that would be affected by the current Bus Network Redesign proposal. We heard from several residents about the uncertainty of the path forward at that time, concerns which I realize did not always have clear and concise answers. I regret that the late release of the initial first/last kilometre report did not allow me to allay those concerns in real time, but I am confident that the work currently being undertaken by City Administration will bring us to a place of clarity before any decisions on this file need to be made.
I campaigned on pushing for the best value for dollar through all avenues of City spending. This is a principle that I have worked hard to uphold throughout my time on Council and, in particular, during 2019-2022 Budget deliberations. If we are going to make significant changes to residents’ travel patterns, we need to be clear on the value that this will provide to taxpayers. These sorts of conversations inevitably means that trade-offs exist, but I’m confident that with the ongoing work on the first/last kilometre challenge we can find a set of solutions that work for everybody. Council does not have an official role in this ongoing process until the expanded first/last km report is released in November 2019, so I would suggest that you direct any specific feedback to 311 so that it may reach the appropriate City officials. You’re also more than welcome to reach out to me directly and I can speak to some of this in more detail.