As you may have seen over the past several months, the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Transit System are in the process of redesigning our bus network. First and foremost, we must recognize that, in concept, this is vital work to realign and modernize our bus network. Edmonton has grown and evolved significantly since this work was last undertaken in the late 1990’s, and it is important that our transit system accounts for these changes as we watch more and more Edmontonians choosing public transit over other modes of transport. That being said, however, I have several reservations about the current draft of the bus network redesign, which is ultimately the impetus for me writing this piece.
As currently drafted, the proposed bus network redesign would see the existing limited bus service to Wedgewood Heights and Cameron Heights outright eliminated. Communities like Donsdale would see existing service reduced significantly, impacting the times at which residents can navigate the city. Furthermore, outer communities like Glastonbury and The Hamptons, which need expanded service given their rate of growth, would see no new service added. Of course, these are just a few highlights that have been brought to my attention; bus service would change to greater or lesser degrees in many other Ward 5 communities not mentioned above, and I do not mean to exclude those communities from this conversation in my comments here.
I had a chance to meet with members of the team that has been quarterbacking the work on the bus network redesign, at which time I expressed my concerns and relayed the words of several Ward 5 residents who have reached out to my office over the past few months. They made it clear that, first and foremost, this was merely a draft, and that their continued public engagement efforts would provide the impetus for potential changes to that draft prior to it coming before Council. They also expressed to me that, in most of these cases, the local routes that were proposed to be eliminated or cut back were some of the lowest performing routes in Edmonton, and that their intention was to reallocate these resources to other routes that were operating beyond their capacity at this time.
My fundamental feeling is that, while ETS should be operated with an eye on efficiency and sound business practices, at its core transit is a public service. Whether a bus route serves 2000 residents or 20 residents, it remains a foundational element of life for those individual residents and eliminating service would have enormous consequences on the way in which they can live, work, and experience our city. I admit that I do not know what the right answer is here, given the obvious push and pull of resourcing constraints, but I believe that if we are going to hasten our evolution as a modern city we need to do better by the people in our suburban communities that choose transit as their primary mode of transportation. I’m looking forward to seeing a report on first kilometer-last kilometer options this coming fall. In the meantime, help me defend your public transit access by completing the Bus Network Survey (open until June 30th) and by emailing my office with your stories.