One year after calling for the west Edmonton LRT extension to be halted, Ward 9 city councillor Tim Cartmell is once again saying the city should defer the line indefinitely and redirect money to a better bus network, including bus rapid transit.
On Tuesday, city council will delve into a new Edmonton Transit Service plan, which has promised to include more frequent service in return for longer distances to walk to bus stops, and provision of a secondary service to provide “First-kilometre, Last-kilometre” access.
Cartmell will be putting forward a motion to defer approval of the bus network redesign until budget discussions in December, so councillors can discuss the transit system design within the context of all spending priorities.
Cartmell said it’s important to look at all of the options as a whole.
“To make one set of decisions on transit without having a full picture of all of the resources available for all of transit — LRT, bus, first kilometre, last kilometre — I think it makes sense to have one discussion about all of it at one time, and that time is budget.”
The new bus network plan, unveiled earlier this month, suggests during peak hours there would be five-minute frequency on routes that are in demand, with 15-minute service in off-peak hours.
The old maximum distance to walk to a bus stop would increase from 400 metres to as many as 600 metres or, in some rare cases, 800 metres.
Transit ridership in Edmonton is around 13 per cent, and it hasn’t changed in decades. Last week, Coun. Andrew Knack said, based on surveys he has read, the lack of convenience and time it takes to get anywhere is what is keeping some people from taking transit.
Cartmell said the $2.4 billion pricetag for the west end LRT, which would extend the Valley Line from downtown to Lewis Farms across the Henday in the west end, might be better spent instead on a less expensive BRT network.
“I think when we talk about what is the next best thing to fund in transit — what is that?” Cartmell said on Sunday after putting out a blog post Friday detailing his ideas.
“If we did have some more resources for the bus network redesign, we could add some more fixed routes — particularly in those neighbourhoods that are losing fixed routes.”
Cartmell said Edmonton should invest in reliable and convenient BRT to the outer reaches of the city like Ottawa has.
According to the city, BRT is a high-priority, bus-based transit system similar to LRT. It has dedicated lanes, stations typically aligned to the centre of the road, and off-board fare collection similar to current LRT stations.
Cartmell suggests a city-wide BRT system, extending from downtown to Lewis Estates, from the University of Alberta to Windermere along Terwillegar Drive, from downtown to northwest Edmonton. He said it should incorporate park-and-ride to allow vehicle drivers to begin migrating to a mass-transit system.
“We are talking about a fundamental redesign of the network and conceptually, I think that there is a lot to be gained there,” he said about the bus network redesign.
“But it does leave a lot of the neighbourhoods I represent without service: neighbourhoods that had service are going to lose it, neighbourhoods that need service, would like to have it.”
The network redesign removes 100 routes and redirects buses to achieve high-frequency service aimed at cutting commute times.
To fill the first kilometre, last kilometre gap, transit is looking at “on-demand” services similar to Uber or taxi. Cartmell said in order for an on-demand model to work, the routes and vehicles for the entire network must be adaptive and be able to slip in and out of the on-demand areas and fixed routes.
In his blog, Carmell said there could be periodic high demand for service in a typically low-demand area: a neighbourhood that needs two or three large buses in the morning and in the evening, but where throughout the day the on-demand service with a small bus is sufficient.
“In other areas we might see low but consistent demand that requires a smaller bus but more frequently,” Cartmell wrote, adding the city should buy a number of different-sized vehicles that can serve a multitude of service modes anywhere in the system.
“I don’t think that delivers a very good message to, on the one hand, say we want people to use a robust transit network but at the same time, telling people that have actually used that network, have actually used that service — that they’re no longer going to have a service to use.”
— With files from Scott Johnston, Global News
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