Transit Camp aims to mobilize bus and LRT champions

· The Pulse

A city councillor is hoping to create a sense of community for Edmonton's transit users by convening Transit Camp, a day-long exploration of the challenges and opportunities facing public transportation.

"If I asked you, 'Are you part of the public transit community as riders and operators and supporters?', where would you go?" said Coun. Michael Janz. "How would you find a sense of connection and community to build political power? This event is for you."

The March 18 event at the University of Alberta is meant to mobilize those who believe in public transit and want to make it better, the councillor for Ward papastew told Taproot.

"We need to educate, inform, and organize as riders and advocates for climate justice, social justice, and mobility justice," Janz said. "Public transit is the backbone of this work."

Janz would like to see the event lead to "a re-invigoration of community activism." Edmonton has had groups such as Free Transit Edmonton, or further back, TRUE (Transit Riders Union of Edmonton), but nothing as active and organized as TTC Riders in Toronto.

"As a left-wing person, we talk about the importance of strong public services," he said. "What could be more foundational for workers' rights and people's rights than transit? Like public health care or public education, if you want a public service to be better, you must be loud and proud and ready to fight for your rights."

Janz chose to call it Transit Camp out of "a bit of nostalgia for the early days of social media in Edmonton," when events such as ChangeCamp Edmonton and Reboot Alberta in 2009 brought creative people together to help solve problems.

An Edmonton Transit Service LRT train on street-level tracks in downtown Edmonton on a blue-sky day in late winter

An LRT train goes for a test run on the Valley Line along 102 Avenue in late February. (Paula Kirman)

James Wilt, a Winnipeg-based author and transit advocate, will deliver a keynote address based on his book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars? Public Transit in the Age of Google, Uber, and Elon Musk.

"Public transit in Canada has long been in rough shape due to chronic underinvestment, conditions that the fallout from COVID-19 only exposed and worsened," Wilt told Taproot. "My presentation will outline a case for understanding and funding transit as a genuinely public service that can cut emissions and air pollution, improve mobility justice, reduce congestion and crashes, provide good unionized work, and more."

Transit ridership in Canada remains below pre-pandemic levels, but Edmonton has been ahead of the pack in terms of recovery, and ETS reported a return to 2019 ridership numbers in January.

Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, branch manager for the Edmonton Transit Service, will no doubt explore those numbers further in her talk on the state of Edmonton transit in 2023, while David Cooper of Leading Mobility, a transportation planning firm, will discuss national trends.

Other topics for discussion include whether the bus network redesign was successful, whether safety concerns on buses and the LRT are being addressed, and what investments were made into transit in the 2023 municipal budget.

Transit Camp was developed in partnership with a number of progressive organizations in Edmonton, including ATU 569, the University of Alberta's Sustainability Council, Climate Justice Edmonton, Migrante Alberta, Working Families Edmonton, the Edmonton District Labour Council, and the Parkland Institute.

About 200 people have RSVPed so far, ranging in age from seniors to students and including other city councillors, community leaders, employers, researchers, and many others, Janz said. While this is the first Transit Camp, he'd like to see it continue long after he has left office.

"I hope this event becomes the annual 'State of the Union' for transit that city councillors 50 years from now are continuing to host."