In their newly proposed budget, the city of Edmonton has thrown transit users under the metaphorical bus with a proposed 75 cent fare hike.
Regular transit users in Edmonton know that the city doesn’t provide high-quality service. Many riders have become demoralized after months of 20 minute LRT intervals. The city’s own audits show that 42 per cent of buses run off schedule. Raising fares to $4 would likely make ETS the most expensive transit fare in Canada. It’s typical for cities to raise transit fares by five to ten cents per year. For example, Calgary raised their fare five cents to $3.30, and Vancouver raising their one-zone fare by ten cents to $2.95. A rapid increase of 25 cents per year — a figure far beyond inflation — with no improvements to service is unprecedented and will both anger current riders and drive potential users away. Both Calgary and Vancouver are rolling out multiple new rapid bus routes (which can be as fast or faster than driving) and expanding service hours along with their modest fare increases.
Edmonton’s widely panned bus route “redesign” won’t roll out until 2020, and will only stretch existing buses to cover Edmonton’s rapidly sprawling suburbs. There will be no new buses or rapid bus infrastructure. It’ll be hard not to feel ripped off when you’re paying the most expensive bus ticket in Canada and end up waiting 20 minutes for a train. Riders should be rightfully pissed off.
Mayor Don Iveson constantly talks about boosting transit ridership, but ironically is shooting transit in the foot with an austerity budget. The city will never achieve its lofty goals of revitalizing downtown and Vision Zero without improving public transit. It’s also a brutal hit to the wallets of low-income transit users who can’t afford alternatives. Taking transit is already significantly slower and less convenient when compared to driving in almost every use case in Edmonton; raising the fare of a pitiful system won’t encourage anyone to use it.
In contrast to the exciting new LRT lines under construction, Edmonton’s existing transit infrastructure is barely surviving. Edmonton’s oldest LRT trains are now over 40 years old, and that model of train has been mostly phased out of service everywhere else in the world.
Edmonton City Council has a tendency to focus on shiny new ideas instead of practical projects, obsessing over fantastical yet completely ridiculous visions of the future like driverless on-demand maglevs, hyperloops, and mini-shuttles. Councillors have even questioned whether LRT and buses will soon be obsolete public transit platforms. Councillor Tony Caterina once stated that transit isn’t an essential service, and I’d almost like to see Edmonton descend into gridlock hell without it just to prove him wrong. The reality is that the bus is still best, and there simply isn’t enough space on the road to accommodate driverless Ubers for everyone. Well-designed bus routes are the most efficient and cost-effective way to move people around a city, and likely always will be.
Edmonton’s quest to be taken seriously as a major Canadian city leads council to construct bizarre Simpsons monorail-esque infrastructure projects, as if building a funicular or the infamous gondola will finally make us relevant. While the thirst for attention is relatable, Edmonton doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to achieve transit greatness. Make the bus cheap, efficient, and reliable, and people will use it.