The Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Services Commission has asked city council for answers

City councilors are seeking more information from the commission guiding regional transit collaboration in the Edmonton area as it plans a transit system.

On Monday, Edmonton City Council received an information update from Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Services Commission (EMTSC) as the regional bus network plans to prepare service options for an expected start in early 2023.

The commission hopes to reduce barriers to intermunicipal transit and ensure it remains affordable for users, so anyone from St. Albert to Fort Saskatchewan can travel to Edmonton and back with one smart card.

“You just want to be able to get on a bus and go wherever you want in the area,” said Andrew Knack, Nakota Isga Ward Councilor and EMTSC Board of Governors representative for the city.

For St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron, the EMTSC represents an opportunity to eliminate duplication of services.

“I really don’t want to be on a bus or driving next to a bus coming from South St. Albert on Groat Road with an Edmonton Transit bus followed right behind by a St. Albert Transit bus doing the exact same route,” Heron said.

“It’s inefficient and that’s what we’re trying to solve with this commission,” she added.

Paul Jankowski, CEO of EMTSC, said he hopes to be able to take all currently duplicated hours of service and reinvest them into other bus services in the region. Any cost savings generated would be shared equally between the partner municipalities.

“It’s not about losing those hours of service,” Jankowski said. “It’s about allocating them to get the highest overall return from a collective perspective, which would benefit Edmonton ratepayers.”

The EMTSC includes the cities of St. Albert, Edmonton, Spruce Grove, Fort Saskatchewan, Beaumont, Leduc and the cities of Devon and Stony Plain.

LOSS OF LOCAL CONTROL PROBLEMS

Strathcona County initially agreed to be part of the city commission, but pulled out in early 2020 over concerns that creating the regional road would come at the cost of losing control of its local coverage.

Papastew Ward Councilor Michael Janz echoed similar concerns on Monday.

“I’m concerned that efficiencies will come at the expense of ridership and routes for Edmontonians, and I’m concerned that fundamentally in the governance model (for the commission) we are giving up local control,” said Janz.

In an interview with CTV News Edmonton, Jankowski said there “are no losers of service” on the commission.

“What we’re doing right now is we’re developing over the next four months, these are recommendations for what opening day service will look like in early 2023 to serve residents and businesses in these eight municipalities,” Jankowski said.

“There are a lot of services to provide in the future,” he added. “This is not an exercise in reducing service. What we have indicated is that we will use a combination of delivery options the way service is provided today.”

He is convinced that the collaboration will result in better public transit for everyone.

“We are focused on creating the best opening day service possible,” Jankowski said.

Tastawiyiniwak Ward Councilor Karen Principe asked Jankowski if the EMTSC had considered what transit safety would look like once all transit administrators operated under one banner.

Jankowski said that’s a detail that will be addressed “in the future” as part of service negotiations with municipalities and the development of future operating protocols.

A PLACE AT THE TABLE

For Steve Bradshaw, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569, a major concern is that front-line operators such as bus drivers, cleaners and cleaners are not represented at committee talks.

“We would like to be part of the evolution (of regional transit),” Bradshaw told CTV News Edmonton.

Jankowski said the commission “does not have a relationship” with any unions at this time as high-level planning is taking place. Once the analysis is complete, Jankowski expects to have more detailed conversations.

“My discussions are with the administrations of the eight-member municipalities,” he told the council.

“NO HIDDEN CALENDAR”

Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi bluntly asked the commission’s CEO what impact the regional transit system would have on front-line transit workers.

“I just want to be sure that this is not a backdoor to privatize ETS,” Sohi asked. “I need to know that.”

“Absolutely not,” Jankowski said, adding that there was “no hidden agenda” to cut staff.

Bradshaw added that many Edmonton transit service employees are concerned that the EMTSC continues to talk about service efficiency, but offered limited details on what that means on the ground.

“We’re getting to a point where they expect the City of Edmonton to transfer 11% of their service hours to the regional commission,” Bradshaw said.

“It just happens down the road. And we don’t hear the specifics of what exactly that means for the stakeholders, the taxpayer, the riders and so on,” he added. “We don’t get those difficult details.”

EMTSC plans to conduct further analysis and route planning over the next four months to bring back to member municipalities to demonstrate how the service would operate.

With respect to Edmonton, city councilors passed a motion calling for additional reporting on how ETS users would be affected and details on how the commission provides value to ratepayers.

These should be received this fall.


With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson

Melvin Z. Madore