Regional transit takes another step forward with Edmonton's continued support

· The Pulse

Edmonton city council voted 10-3 this week to support the Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Service Commission phase one service plan that will see 11 routes across the region launch in the spring.

Though council endorsed the plan, it did not commit any funding at this time. Instead, administration will bring forward a service package for council's consideration during the upcoming budget discussions. The plan is expected to require an investment of at least $7.2 million from the City of Edmonton.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he firmly supports regional public transit, but cautioned the commission model could result in Edmonton paying more.

"I want everyone to know that the commission model is going to cost us more and we need to go into that with open eyes and a clear understanding," he said.

Several councillors raised concerns about investing in regional transit ahead of improving local service. But Coun. Andrew Knack suggested council could do both with its support for the plan.

"This actually adds service hours to Edmonton. To me that is clearly better service, right now," he said. "And it's going to help strengthen the region."

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron told Postmedia the Edmonton vote was positive and said her city is prepared to hand over some of its routes to the commission "to make this vision and dream a reality."

"Yes, there is probably going to be some pain in the years between when the commission starts up and when Edmonton is fully in, but once they are fully in and we have one system in the region, that's when the realization of efficiencies and the economic impact of that will be realized," she said.

Beaumont, Devon, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Spruce Grove, St. Albert, and Stony Plain are the current members of the commission. All would transfer local transit operations to EMTSC except for Edmonton.

A map showing the phase one plan for the regional transit service proposed by EMTSC

The initial plan proposes 11 new regionally integrated routes to begin service in spring/summer 2023.

Regional service was originally anticipated to begin in September 2022, but now EMTSC is targeting a launch as early as April 2023. The commission's operating line of credit — secured through guarantees from the City of Edmonton and the City of St. Albert — was increased earlier this year from $5 million to $7 million to reflect the delayed start of service.

Several regional leaders told Edmonton city council they want to see the plan move ahead.

"A regional approach to transit matters and is a decision point for investors," said Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global. "They want to know if people are able to get to and from work in an easy, barrier free way, and is a key aspect of hiring new employees and also of retaining of current employees."

Karen Wichuk, CEO of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board, also wants to see the plan move forward.

"Regionally leadership is required to plan and implement an integrated regional transportation system to enable economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and livability of our region," she said. "This is legacy work."

Spruce Grove city council received an update on regional transit in private at its meeting on Sept. 12, and last month, St. Albert Coun. Shelley Biermanski requested more information on the city's budget for regional transit.

More details on the commission's budget and the cost of the phase one plan are expected to be released this fall.