Better Bussing: A Bright Future for Edmonton's Transit System

March 24, 2019

Written by: Sabine Roche

Figure 1.  Source: Twitter Page “Edmonton Transit Service (ETS)”. (2018, May 30).

Figure 1. Source: Twitter Page “Edmonton Transit Service (ETS)”. (2018, May 30).


Modern Mobility

Some thought it would never happen, but somehow, it has! The City of Edmonton has finally heard our cries and a major bus route revamp is taking place, set to hit the streets in mid-2020. The Edmonton Transit Strategy outlines the goal for Edmonton to modernize its transit and ultimately lead to more people choosing to take transit as it becomes better serviced and more accessible to users. The changes made include having 5 specific route types, including frequent bus routes, rapid bus routes, crosstown bus routes, local routes, and community routes. These 5 routes have been specifically curated to service the diverse needs of Edmontonians in all areas of the city. Click the link here to see the new routes and how they will affect you. The suggested changes have sparked a conversation around public transit in Edmonton, and it is believed that the potential benefits of these new routes outweigh the challenges. Ultimately, like many things, it will take some getting used to.

Economic Efficiency

So, what’s changing, and why is it good? Well, the major shift we’re seeing is the current 200 routes being reduced to 100 routes come 2020. By cutting off overlapping routes, those buses can instead be repurposed into providing a higher frequency service for other routes. The drawback is a bit of a longer commute to bus stops in some neighbourhoods, but for most people, that is a manageable change. With more frequently-occuring buses, “the city expects to see increased ridership”, says Sarah Feldman, director of Planning and Scheduling at ETS (CBC News, 2018). Increasing opportunities for efficient active transit in the city by decreasing the friction of distance may tempt those who did not find the bus convenient before to use transit,as it will be more time-friendly. A big concern with bus routes in general is that negative externalities, such as the cost of more time spent taking the bus, play a big role in a person's decision to take transit. Thus, unless bus transit is much more affordable and efficient than driving a car, there is no economic incentive for people to utilize the bus service. In other words, with a limited budget, it is a better use of resources to create a more compact system that serves fewer people more efficiently. The fact of the matter is that, in a lot of scenarios, people who live in the suburbs are much more likely to use cars to get around because service in these peripheral areas is limited.



Crosstown Cruise

One common concern in the Executive Summary of Public Findings by the City of Edmonton was that getting from places across the city just took way too long, so the addition of crosstown routes will make a big difference for a lot of people. With areas like Downtown and Whyte Ave becoming more accessible, a greater sense of place will be fostered by attracting and promoting interaction of people and businesses alike. Lastly, with a limited budget, the other options for redesigning the bus system in Edmonton are fairly unappealing or difficult, such as charging residents more to use public transit, serving the periphery less, or focussing on densifying. Consequently, the reason this change can be viewed as a positive is because it does not require purchasing any additional buses, hiring any new bus operators, or a penny more from taxpayers. The City of Edmonton has partnered with ETS to utilize the city’s current resources and reimagine how they can be more efficiently distributed.


Figure 2.  Bussing as a viable option in Edmonton.  Source: City of Edmonton “Bus Rapid Transit and Modal Integration”

Figure 2. Bussing as a viable option in Edmonton.

Source: City of Edmonton “Bus Rapid Transit and Modal Integration”

Opposing Opinions

At this point you might be wondering about the opinions of those opposed to the plan. Let’s just say that the views of residents definitely vary. For the most part, one feature residents expressed concern about was what they were losing and not seeing the efficiency otherwise being gained. Furthermore, we can’t forget about how these changes will impact various demographics. There is a big question about senior citizens and how they will access these new routes if the walking distance increases from a 5 minute average to up to a 10-minute walk to reach the nearest bus stop. The city has commented on this issue stating that this hasn’t been overlooked and a ‘Vanpool Pilot Project’ would offer people rides to the nearest transit connections. Additionally, there was some concern surrounding having to take the LRT in certain areas that bus routes have been eliminated. For some users, the LRT is hard to access (stairs as an issue, seen as scary or intimidating, etc.), and thus, the city should consider implementing some Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles as to shift the atmosphere and structure of these buildings to ensure that people feel safe using them.

Contemporary Connections

Now that things have been broken down a bit, it is fair to say that it isn’t perfect but the changes being made are attempting to achieve a more modern transit system. To achieve an efficient bus system throughout the city, we have to start somewhere. Changes in technology, such as the way buses move through the city, affect how Edmonton will develop and grow in the future. So, even though this route redesign does not service all Edmontonians perfectly, it is the beginning to a more modern and functional city. Transit is at the heart of what so many people do and with quicker, more accessible buses in these newly outlined routes, people will be able to access areas of the city that were difficult to get to before, and just as importantly, be able to depend on a bus coming within a reasonable amount of time. So, ask yourself, how does this redesign affect you and what does it mean for the future of Edmonton?


References


City of Edmonton. Bus Network Maps and Routes. Retrieved from https://www.edmonton.ca/projects_plans/transit/bus-network-redesign-maps-routes.aspx


City of Edmonton. Bus Network Maps and Routes. Retrieved from https://www.edmonton.ca/documents/Bus_Network_Redesign_Version2_All_Routes.pdf


CBC News. (2019, January 15). Mind the gap: Getting Edmontonians to transit hubs without local buses. CBC News. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/ edmonton-bus-redesign-1.4978109


City of Edmonton. Bus Rapid Transit and Modal Integration. Retrieved from

https://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/initiatives_innovation/bus-rapid-transit.aspx


City of Edmonton. Bus Network Redesign - First Kilometre / Last Kilometre Study. Retrieved from https://www.edmonton.ca/projects_plans/transit/bus-network-redesign-first -km-last-km-study.aspx


City of Edmonton (2018, September 26). City of Edmonton Bus Network Redesign. Retrived from https://www.edmonton.ca/documents/PDF/Executive_Summary_Public_ Findings_Phase1_Bus_Network_Redesign_Sept2018.pdf


City of Edmonton. Draft Bus Network Redesign Changes. Retrieved from https://www.edmonton.ca/projects_plans/transit/draft-bus-network-redesign-changes.aspx


City of Edmonton. Edmonton Transit Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.edmonton.ca/ city_government/documents/RoadsTraffic/Transit_Strategy_June-29-2017.pdf


Mertz, E. (2018, March 29). City explains mass changes to Edmonton bus routes: ‘We can’t be everything to everyone’. Global News. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/4113713/edmonton-bus-routes-changes-ets-traffic/


Riebe, N. (2018, March 29). Edmonton slashes 100 routes in proposed new bus system. CBC News. Retrieved from

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/edmonton-bus-system-1.4599301