Article by Sarah Hamilton, City of Edmonton Ward 5 Councillor

The Bus Network Redesign came into effect a little over a month ago, and with it came the new On-Demand Transit service. This represents a significant change to the type and level of transit service that many West Edmonton residents can expect moving forward. I’ve continued to hear feedback from residents as the new routes have rolled out, and I’ve gone out to try the new service myself. Given that most transit users likely will have had a chance to use the new service by this point, I’d like to share some comments about the process and a few of my own observations so far.

First, as many of you will have seen by now, I did not vote in favour of the Bus Network Redesign. I wrote about that decision back in November 2019, when the vote took place. I understood and appreciated the rationale for the bus network redesign, and I agree in principle with the idea of efficient allocation of limited transit resources to areas where they will have the most impact. Building on top of a 20+ year old bus map was never going to be our best path forward. That being said, I could not in good conscience vote in favour of a plan that would see so much fixed bus service pulled out of Ward 5, even if we have a number of low ridership neighbourhoods. It is important that our public services not only run efficiently, but also with equity of access in mind, and it is no secret that many Ward 5 residents are seeing less frequent and less expansive service now than they were a few months ago.

As we know, Council did approve the Bus Network Redesign, and I’m not somebody that is going to wash my hands of an issue just because the vote didn’t go my way. I think Ward 5 residents deserve to know that their City Councillor is still working constructively to try and alleviate their concerns. I have continued to share resources about the Bus Network Redesign on social media over the past several months, and I’ve been communicating with staff at Edmonton Transit Service to share the reports that many of you have brought to my office. I would encourage anybody that wishes to offer feedback on the new bus network to reach out to ETS using this public feedback form. While ETS will be sticking to the Council approved network for the time being, they have indicated that they will make adjustments in the future based on demand, user feedback and ridership data.

I also feel that we are in a much better position today than we were previously to push for targeted transit service improvements in Ward 5, and if I am on the next City Council I will be pushing for new transit funding in the 2023-2026 budget cycle to add service to the communities I represent. While the old bus network may have had certain elements that were better for West Edmontonians, it was also not a network that anybody was eager to build upon, myself included. For years, past City Councils had been making piecemeal, one-off adjustments and additions to an old network that had long since stopped reflecting the way in which Edmonton has grown over the past 20-25 years. While I may not be satisfied with the current state of our bus network, I do feel that we have a more appropriate foundation on which to build a transit network that can serve every Edmontonian.

Independent of the broader network, I have been quite pleased with how the On-Demand Transit service has rolled out. Many of you may remember that I have spoken quite openly about how challenging the first kilometer/last kilometer problem has been in West Edmonton, and I was a fierce advocate for the adoption of an on-demand model that could help alleviate this problem. I represent too many neighbourhoods that either have had no fixed bus service, or were slated to lose what little fixed bus service they did have. As of today, Edmonton is now operating the largest on-demand transit program in the country, and I think ours will serve a model for a lot of other cities that face similar service gaps. I give a lot of credit to the staff at ETS for their vision and bravery in designing this new layer of integrated service. Six Ward 5 communities have been included in the two-year pilot program (Cameron Heights, Edgemont, The Hamptons/Hope Road, Rio Terrace/Quesnell Heights, Wedgewood and Westridge), and I hope we see this service expanded to other communities in the future.

I went out and utilized the service myself in the first week of implementation, travelling from Edgemont to Lewis Estates on an on-demand vehicle, then from Lewis Estates to West Edmonton Mall on a standard bus, then back onto an on-demand vehicle to go from WEM down to Cameron Heights. My main takeaway was– it’s pretty seamless! The pickup timelines were tight, the operators were friendly, and the mobile app is very smooth. I put up a series of Instagram stories documenting my journey, if you’d like to take a look. I really hope more folks in impacted communities will give the on-demand service a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. And as I have said in the past, it really strengthens our argument for increased transit service in West Edmonton when residents utilize the service they do have.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the bus network redesign, the on-demand transit service or anything else that I’ve raised here. Please don’t hesitate to send me an email at sarah.hamilton@edmonton.ca or give my office a call at 780-496-8120.

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