Navigating transit: New ETS branch manager plans to use her experiences to improve the department

· The Pulse
By Jackson Spring
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Carrie Hotton-MacDonald is the new branch manager of Edmonton Transit Service (ETS), and she plans to use her 25 years of experience riding transit to improve the network.

"I've waited in the freezing cold. I've missed connections. I've been on crowded buses. I've navigated transit with a little child, with a broken hand — I've done it. I get it," she told Taproot's Speaking Municipally.

Hotton-MacDonald is also hoping to bring her perspective as a woman to a male-dominated department.

After working for a transit service in Nova Scotia for five years, Hotton-MacDonald accepted a management position at ETS in 2017. At that time, she was the only female manager in the department. The management team is now approximately 50% women, but the department still has work to do when it comes to gender parity, she told Taproot.

"Only 18% of our operators are women — that's atrocious," she said.

Hotton-MacDonald was hired on Feb. 22, after working as acting branch manager since December. She is the first female branch manager of ETS, she said.

"It's exciting to be able to be the first, and hopefully be a role model — to say that in transit, and transportation as a whole, women can have really great career paths.”

Hotton-MacDonald’s promotion happened a mere two months before a major redesign of the bus network comes into effect on April 25. The redesign includes plans to close bus stops, open new ones, change many existing routes, and start the pilot of an on-demand service to supplement the bus network in select neighbourhoods.

Carrie Hotton-MacDonald is the first female branch manager for ETS, and has been using transit for 25 years. (Supplied by Carrie Hotton-MacDonald) Carrie Hotton-MacDonald is the first female branch manager for ETS, and has been using transit for 25 years. (Supplied by Carrie Hotton-MacDonald)

The redesign has drawn some criticism from transit users, especially since it represents an overall cut of about 100 routes. Hotton-MacDonald said the redesign is about focusing on high-use areas — providing more frequent service and making routes more direct.

She added that it also simplifies the network, which she said is "essential in order for (ETS) to contemplate any type of service growth" in the future.

"It is long overdue," she said. "It's taking a finite amount of resources ... and hopefully doing more with what we have so that we can then build on it."

Hotton-MacDonald admitted the network changes won’t be perfect on April 25. She said the city will likely have to make additional changes as transit users like herself provide feedback.

"We're going to have to have those conversations about what didn't we get right, where do we need to fix it, and how we do that," she said.

"The community needs transit but ... transit needs the community. We're here for people to see it as the convenient, safe option, and it needs to reflect what people are saying."

The episode of Speaking Municipally that this article references will be available on March 12.