Jan 17, 2020

Driving Change in Edmonton Transit: What I’ve Done So Far

I’m working hard for the NE, and for you. 

You’ve told me that your priorities include safe, affordable, reliable transit and as I talk with residents every day, this continues to be top of mind for our Ward.

Here’s what I’m doing to make it happen….

In 2017 I ran to be your Ward 4 City Councillor on a number of issues affecting communities in the Northeast. Getting the services we need, including a transit system that works for everyone, is a big part of what I committed to and what I’m focused on. So, two years in — what progress has been made, and what changes to the system can we expect?

First, I asked the City’s Administration to deliver a report that demonstrates the clear economic impact of investing in transit. This year Administration returned to Council with direct evidence that increasing ridership targets was key to the future success of Edmonton’s transit system. Did you know that for every $1 invested in transit, our economy sees a $4 benefit?

We know that more investments in infrastructure need to be made, including additional garage space to service transit vehicles. That way we can purchase additional buses and trains to improve frequency and service reach. Council will discuss the planning and design of a new garage this Monday, January, 20th.

I’ve also asked the important question “Why are transit fines 2.5X the cost of parking tickets?” We want more Edmontonians on transit to make room on the roads for those of us who have to drive. Why then are the costs of taking transit not in line with other modes of transportation? A parking ticket costs $70 in our city, where the penalty of riding ETS without a ticket is $250. Council will be making a decision on this “tax on poverty” soon. 

In 2020 you will see Smart Fare technology installed in all ETS infrastructure. This means that paying for transit will be easier than ever. The hassle of carrying exact cash will be over. This won’t solve all of the problems, however, and I’ll still be pushing to make fares more affordable.

I will continue to fight against fare increases in Council. It doesn’t make sense to charge more in user fees if the necessary investments haven’t been made to significantly improve service. If we want more ridership we need to make transit more attractive and affordable for riders.

We know from evidence and the experiences shared by ETS operators that driver and passenger safety can become compromised in disputes over payment of fares. There are others factors as well that contribute to safety, including the presence of security. Council supported adding funds to the ETS budget for shields that protect drivers as well as additional security. This is one step, but more is needed and I am working with both ETS union leadership and City Administration to find the right solutions.

During our 2019 supplemental budget discussions, I collaborated with my colleague Councillor Ben Henderson to protect the vital transit funding needed to make sure our city didn’t lose over 50,000 service delivery hours, and I put forward a motion to freeze any increases to individual ticket fares in 2020. Both of these motions were successfully passed. This is the first time there will not be an annual increase to individual fare prices in years.

I’ve been meeting often with City staff and advocating in Council to find ways to improve the scheduling and capacity of DATS because long wait times are unacceptable. Council supported adding additional resources to get more vehicles and drivers into the system and I’m keeping a close watch on how this is unfolding as I continue to advocate for better service.

On August 30, 2020 our bus network will be transformed by a redesign. Last year I called for a total transit overhaul, because right now we are paying for a world-class system, but we are not getting a world-class system. Ensuring routes continue to serve our communities is what I’m fighting for. I’ve negotiated several changes to the redesign to save important stops from the chopping block. If your service is being affected, please reach out to me.

This year I also helped to secure the additional funds necessary for Boyle Street Services to continue to operate their Winter Warming Bus for a second consecutive year.

Canada’s largest fleet of electric buses will begin moving people throughout our city in 2020. Earlier this year Council declared a Climate Emergency in Edmonton. This is one of the ways we begin to reduce our overall carbon footprint.

City Council has voted to continue future work on the West Line Valley LRT. This project will add hundreds of construction jobs, spur our economy, is cheaper than it’s proposed BRT alternative, and will connect the west end to the rest of the city. This means reduced congestion for everyone.

And most recently, anExtreme Weather Protocol was enacted for our city. 

In early 2019 tragedy struck when a resident was found deceased outside Commonwealth Stadium due to extreme weather conditions. Edmontonians were heartbroken and felt that the City should have done something to prevent this. I wholeheartedly agreed. I immediately put forward a motion asking the City to keep our LRT stations open overnight to provide shelter from the elements for those living rough during the cold snap. Central station remained open around the clock to help shelter individuals, and buses were dispatched to bring people to the 24 hour space. This was a temporary solution. 

We now have an Extreme Weather Protocol with input from our City’s major frontline service providers. My direct action helped ensure that this year–we had a plan in place. During extreme cold snaps, Commonwealth Recreation Centre has opened its doors from 10pm-7am with beds and washroom facilities for those without a place to sleep. In addition, Edmonton Transit Service runs a dedicated bus, free of charge, between shelters and select transit centres. The City’s ETS team has assured me that anyone in need of transportation or access to transit who cannot afford the fare in this time will be supported and accommodated by our dedicated operators. If you need to: get on, get warm, stay safe.

I am working hard to make progress and I am committed to getting even more done. If you have comments or suggestions, do not hesitate to call, email, or tweet at me.