Express bus from airport to downtown seen as business boost

· The Pulse

An express bus from the Edmonton International Airport (YEG) to downtown could become a reality if city council approves the idea during the upcoming 2023-2026 budget deliberations.

"I've been hearing very strongly from the airport and the downtown business community that this service is needed," Coun. Anne Stevenson told Taproot. She is expected to make a motion as early as Oct. 7 to request an unfunded service package for council's consideration.

Stevenson said she had previously been skeptical of the need given the existence of the Route 747 service, which runs from Century Park to YEG seven days a week at either 30- or 60-minute intervals, depending on the time of day. "I felt the transfer to the LRT at Century Park was reasonable."

But a couple of factors caused her to rethink that position. "I heard from the business community that it might be a barrier to having events come downtown," Stevenson said. "And I learned that a majority of taxi rides from the airport are to downtown."

In fact, about half of all taxi trips from YEG head to downtown, a spokesperson confirmed to Taproot.

Brett Bain, director of parking and ground transportation at YEG, said the airport is supportive of the idea, in part because it would benefit employees who need to get to the airport for work.

"As a regional partner in transit, creating a direct route to Edmonton's downtown core will also help to strengthen business and tourism opportunities," he said in a statement. "As we continue to grow as an airport and a region, more transit services will be needed and this direct route to downtown is a natural next step in our regional transit journey."

Stevenson said she wasn't sure where the downtown terminus of the service might be, but suggested locating it close to hotels and convention space would make sense. "My expectation is that it would be informed by input from downtown partners."

Passengers embarking and disembarking from an ETS bus marked "Charter" near Churchill Square

An express bus service between the Edmonton International Airport and downtown could be considered by city council during the upcoming 2023-2026 budget deliberations. (City of Edmonton)

Stevenson told CBC's Edmonton AM that the route might cost about $2 million, but that's before taking into account any revenue it would generate.

Bain said YEG invested $2.5 million to support the first five years of operation for Route 747. In 2019, the service carried more than 250,000 riders.

Riders on the Route 747 can use two adult ETS tickets or pay a $5 one-way cash fare (riders with a UPass, Leduc Commuter pass, or other special fare products don't pay anything extra). Stevenson told Taproot that while a fee structure for the express bus to downtown is still to be determined, it would be "consistent with the existing Route 747 and other jurisdictions."

Even a larger fee than the $5 fare for the Route 747 would be "much cheaper" than a taxi ride, she added.

Though city council recently reaffirmed its support for the Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Service Commission Phase 1 service plan, there are no plans for the express service to be run by the commission — at least not yet.

Having ETS operate the service is "an expedient way to move it forward," Stevenson said. "But ultimately, the logic of the commission is that it runs service that crosses regional boundaries, so it makes sense to fall under their jurisdiction."

Running a train between the city and the airport is the long-term goal, Stevenson said, but she noted that could be cost-prohibitive.

"For now, a bus is an economically viable approach."