Survey shows metro area residents support regional transit. Now what?

· The Pulse

Plans to amalgamate several Edmonton-area municipal transit systems into a single regional system have popular support, a survey suggests.

Three-quarters of respondents to the Integrated Regional Transit Survey were in favour of plans to create a single transit system in the Edmonton Metro Region. The online survey was conducted by Leger for the Edmonton Municipal Transit Services Commission. In total, 1,219 people from Edmonton, St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Devon, Leduc, and Beaumont were interviewed in September 2021.

Those who supported the plan felt that it would offer more connections and make getting around the region easier. People in the region thought it would be especially beneficial for postsecondary students who would be able to live at home and commute from surrounding communities. NAIT, MacEwan, and the University of Alberta will be key destinations in the first phase of the metro transit plan, which is set to roll out in 2023.

The idea of creating a unified regional transit system has been in the works since 2013 when the first investigative study of inter-municipal transit governance was conducted. Mayors from 13 municipalities signed a memorandum of understanding in 2018, but Morinville and the counties of Strathcona, Parkland, Leduc, and Sturgeon later withdrew their participation.

Some of Edmonton's current city councillors have raised concerns about the cost of the project and voiced fears about a potential drop in the number of bus routes. The community and public services committee is to receive a report from administration on Aug. 22 with an analysis of the plan's expected impacts on service, ridership, revenue, equipment, personnel, and the Edmonton Transit Service operating budget.

The regional system "would not represent any kind of reduction in routes that are being delivered within the city," said Bryan Haggarty, director of corporate services for the EMTSC, noting that the plan represents an increase in service in the surrounding municipalities.

The view through a bus windshield of the grain elevator and highway through Spruce Grove

The Edmonton Municipal Transit Services Commission is working on routes for the new integrated regional transit system that will connect Edmonton, St. Albert, Fort Saskatchewan, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Devon, Leduc, and Beaumont. (EMTSC/YouTube)

Although a majority of respondents to the Leger survey supported the idea of an integrated regional transit system, those opposed also cited worries that it would be too expensive and increase costs to taxpayers. Haggarty suggested those fears are unfounded.

"I think it's following the proven model of regionalism, in terms of being the most effective and efficient way to deliver services collectively on behalf of citizens served and to reduce taxpayer burden," he said.

The next step for the EMTSC is to draft what the improved routes would look like based on information from a second survey.

"We did go out and actually ride the bus with people and then went to a number of member municipalities just to bring up awareness of this survey, and in order to ensure that we have the most current pulse of ridership in the region," Haggarty said.

"Right now, what's underway is the detailed operational planning. So, the opening-day service plan and what that looks like, that involves determining what the actual routes and schedules are."

Findings from the current surveys will be made public in advance of a report going to committee in August, and its consideration by council in September, Haggarty said.