Collaborating to Achieve Regional Transit

Collaborating to plan and operate our transit systems in sync has been something that the City of Edmonton and it’s partners have been talking about it for years, both at a local and regional level.

In a blog post from May of last year, I wrote about a report outlining the opportunities and challenges around integration of our Edmonton Transit System (ETS), and St. Albert Transit.

The ‘dream’ that I mentioned in that blog post is closer to reality than ever, thanks to the work of Transportation Committee yesterday. We passed a recommendation that our Administration continue to “work with the City of St. Albert to focus the ‘Moving Integrated Transit Forward’ project on the assessment of a separate regional commuter bus service for the Edmonton Metro Region”. This vote means we have inched even closer to realizing the potential of an integrated transit system for the City of Edmonton, and perhaps the entire Capital Region.

In a Regional Commuter Service Model, each municipality has the responsibility for providing public transit services within their boundaries. In any inter-­municipal transit system, the system would be operated by a separate organization. This regional service provider would be responsible for assessing inter-municipal travel needs and designing specific routes to serve commuter demand.

So why is the City of Edmonton moving, albeit slowly, towards an integrated transit system? Well, there are two main reasons - efficiency and sustainability.

Efficiency

By creating seamless connections between the City of Edmonton and St. Albert, we could see thousands of St. Albert residents commute via transit to and from Edmonton everyday experiencing more convenient service across municipal boundaries. We can also elevate our level of service for Edmontonians who live in the north side of Edmonton, much of which is currently underserved by transit due to the rapid growth.

Additionally, a regional transit provider will have the ability to be more flexible and nimble when compared to two autonomous service providers, which means better and more consistent service for users.

Sustainability

Our choices for our transit system’s structure have profound impacts on the way our cities grow and develop. Not only does transit allow for the more efficient movement of people, but it also assists in creating complete compact communities. This becomes even more relevant at the regional level, as the Capital Region Board has set strict density targets for the municipalities around Edmonton.

By collaboratively planning across organizations, a regional transit entity could help to fulfill these density targets and other sustainability measures set out by both the region and participant municipalities. This happens through the development of growth management strategies that focus intensive development on nodes and corridors served by mass transit and regional transit.

Next Steps

As previously mentioned, this is just one small step of many in truly realizing the potential of the Capital Region through transit.

Beginning yesterday, Administration teams from both the City of Edmonton and City of St. Albert will be working to flesh out the details of what a regional commuter model will look like for both communities. They will bring back a report in September that analyses the costs and benefits of a regional commuter service, the potential for expanding the service to other regional partners, options for provincial funding, an exploration of mechanisms for cost-sharing and sustainable funding and available governance options for the recommended model.

A Question to Ponder

I would like to end this post by posing the following question:

Should our region have nine separate systems with their own administrations, operators and half-empty busses passing each other, or should we have one efficient, well-used system which uses provincial and federal dollars more wisely and helps create a more compact regional urban form? I think it’s a fairly easy one to answer, but I’ll let you be the judge.