Headlines: Nov. 16, 2022

· The Pulse
  • Arc, the new electronic transit payment system for Edmonton and its regional transit partners, will be available to Standard Adult riders starting Nov. 21. Users will be able to tap on and off busses and the LRT using their Arc card, which they can load money to online. The system will also introduce price caps for daily and monthly maximum fares. "This is an important milestone toward building a strong, integrated transit service that gives people a more modern, reliable and seamless way to travel around the greater Edmonton region," said Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, branch manager of Edmonton Transit Service. Arc will be expanded in 2023 to discounted fare groups, including seniors, youth, people classified as low-income, and paratransit users. The city is encouraging people who qualify for discounted fares to continue using paper fare products until then.
  • The city's proposed base budgets do not include any funding for Edmonton's On Demand Transit service, which was described in a separate optional funding package as a "cost-effective service model that meets the needs of communities with low demand for fixed route service." On-demand transit was launched as a two-year pilot in 2021 and has since expanded to 50 neighbourhoods and 18 seniors' residences. Continuing the service would require about $12 million. "For such a core service to not be built into the base budget feels like something went wrong somewhere," said Coun. Andrew Knack, "because there's no doubt in my mind that every single member of council would say this is a service that has to continue beyond April 30." Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told reporters that recently announced increased revenue from Epcor could be put toward public transit and that he would "highly recommend" council fund the on-demand service.
  • The city wants to build four new fire stations and upgrade four of the 30 existing stations in the coming years. If council approves the 2023-2026 capital and operating budgets, new stations would be planned first in the neighbourhoods of Cumberland and Walker, with stations in Big Lake and Wedgewood targeted for future budget cycles. Coun. Keren Tang believes the new stations are necessary to achieving future response time targets as the city grows. The city is also replacing Fire Station No. 8 West Yellowhead, which is in the way of the Yellowhead Trail freeway conversion project, with a fire station in Blatchford expected to open in 2025. Coun. Erin Rutherford is worried about service gaps for residents of northwest Edmonton when Fire Station No. 8 moves, with the new Cumberland station not expected to open until 2026. "I want to make sure that there's either really a good safety plan for how we're going to make sure those times aren't reduced, or how can we make sure that that Cumberland fire hall is fast-tracked," she said.
  • The Edmonton Police Commission said in its annual report that overall crime in Edmonton was down 17% in 2021 but that Edmontonians who were surveyed felt less safe and have lower confidence in police. Survey respondents whose confidence in police was excellent or good dropped to 57% in 2021 from 64% in 2020, and those whose confidence was poor or very poor increased to 19% from 10% in the same period, the report showed. The commission also reported that police use of force increased nearly 20% in 2021. Lori Lorenz, executive director of the value & impact division of the Edmonton Police Service said that while the number of reported crimes decreased, the "level of violence within the crime" increased. Likewise, while 911 received fewer calls overall, the calls were more complex.
  • Edmonton Public School Board trustees voted to write a letter to the chief medical officer of health requesting guidance about when schools should bring in mandatory isolation, masking, and other health protocols to deal with illness outbreaks. Nearly 70% of Edmonton's 218 public schools are currently experiencing student absence rates at or above 10% due to influenza, RSV, and COVID-19, with rates exceeding 13% on Nov. 7. According to Supt. Darrel Robertson, masking is "so divisive in the community that it makes it, practically speaking, a challenge for schools to enforce in the absence of health orders." Premier Danielle Smith has said her government will not introduce mask mandates in schools.
  • The annual Holiday Light Up event will take place at Rice Howard Way on Dec. 3. Organized by the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, the one-day event will feature art installations, live music, lantern-making workshops, Indigenous performances, chestnut roasting, Oilers viewing, an Italian Christmas market, a life-sized illuminated polar bear, and more.
  • Premier Danielle Smith wrote a letter to Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek expressing support for the city's desire to extend Calgary's LRT to the airport and possibly create a rail link between Calgary and Banff. Liricon Capital Inc. and Plenary America have submitted a proposal for the $1.5-billion Calgary Airport-Banff Rail project, which they hope to complete by mid-2025. The rail line and the importance of tourism were included in the UCP government's economic mandate issued Nov. 15. Marlin Schmidt, NDP critic for environment and parks, said Smith's communications are too vague and focus on "things that are already happening, or maintaining business as usual."