Transit: Improve It Or Lose It

Merely running buses up and down streets is no longer sufficient for generating funds. In fact, in many cases (e.g. empty buses), it can negatively affect the credibility of a system. Transit systems must do more and tailor service to address specific needs.

Background

Public transit systems in most Canadian communities are funded through a partnership between the municipality and other levels of government. In some cases, local governments are also able to partner with other organizations, such as service agencies or employers, to develop transportation options for specific populations or specific needs.

In St. Albert, we have an aging population with an associated increased need for public transportation. We also have many young families that want to reduce their reliance on their vehicles for transportation within the Capital Region but find it simply impractical to use transit due to the lack of accessibility and high associated costs as well as the various inconvenient schedules. Why would anyone want to spend twice what the residents of Edmonton spend on transit that does not reach close to their home and that does not go where they want to go?

What I’ve Heard So Far

Over the last few weeks, I have heard from many residents who expressed the following:

  • They want to use transit but they have to walk a few blocks to reach it.
  • The system stops working when they most need it.
  • It takes them only halfway to where they need to go outside of the city.
  • They have to wait in uncovered shelters in the middle of winter conditions before they can catch their bus.
  • If they miss their bus, they might have to wait in excess of 40 minutes before they catch the next one.

As it turns out, the very people (e.g. seniors, young adults, moms with kids, families) that most want and need to use transit are put off by the multitude hurdles they face to be able to access it.

We already have areas along St. Albert that currently have no access to transit such as the Campbell Industrial Park. There is a sign that has been standing close to where I live for almost 3 years now promising a future transit stop location but it remains inactive. I’ve heard from a variety of residents across new neighborhoods with no access to transit for themselves or their children who’d like to use it to go to school or access various facilities across our city. Also, the significant amount of proposed construction in the North and Northwest regions of the city will make things even more challenging for our transit system.

My Vision for a Better and More Accessible Transit System

So where do we go from here? Encouraging everyone to purchase their own vehicles isn’t necessarily affordable. We also know firsthand how this has resulted in increased traffic on our roads and will continue to do so as more young people find jobs in our region. The environmental impact of increased traffic is also significant. We know other cities have found better solutions, so why can’t we?

A shuttle service to our bus depots in our city or to major centers and events in St. Albert can provide accessible and fast service to residents to reach their next stop on their way to their destination.  On weekends, we can even offer shuttle service from major centers in Edmonton to our city and vice versa to minimize the number of tourists coming through with their cars from out of town or driving on St. Albert Trail.

Check this hugely successful story:

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/13/243955769/how-a-free-bus-shuttle-helped-make-a-small-town-take-off

We can do proper transit by cooperating with a variety of different agencies, levels of government and even employers or chambers of commerce who might be willing to jump onboard and offer innovative solutions.

A good example comes from a growing small town in Pennsylvania. Working in partnership with area employers, the transit company offers special all-day routes that serve the community’s largest employer (a regional hospital) and shuttle services at specific times of the day to support smaller employers.  Employers pick up the bulk of the costs for these routes, but the routes are also available to the general public. As a result, Rabbit Transit has a more diversified, and sustainable, revenue base.

Can we partner with private companies and provide subsidies to them to provide shuttle transit to certain areas of our city? What about partnering with sporting venues/teams (people in St. Albert love their Eskimos/Oilers but don’t want to drive in winter to get there) and with Various Malls/hotels to provide service during the busiest times throughout the week and on special events (e.g. Christmas/playoffs)?

Or can we partner with public agencies (e.g. AISH or disability services and support department or insurance companies) to facilitate residents with disabilities who want to get to work? Removing barriers to transportation and access is KEY to doing this and to providing an inclusive community to everyone who wants to contribute.

Finally, I believe that cooperation with Edmonton Transit will be key to alleviating our transit and traffic problems. Northwest Edmonton is the only major area in Edmonton that lacks a major transit center that can serve as a relay point for our buses. Apart from rush hour express service, this would allow our transit to reach the city of Edmonton, and then head back to St. Albert to cater to our needs. It would also provide residents who wish to continue to use their cars within the city, the option of driving and parking their cars and avoiding rush hour traffic into Edmonton.

Final Thoughts

I firmly believe that transit service has to be customized to the needs of the city. We can’t do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome. Having electric buses is nice, but it doesn’t make them more accessible to our residents. What we need is a new direction in how we provide and use our Transit. If elected, I will fight to improve this service to provide better transportation, alleviate traffic and make our city truly accessible to everyone living in it.