What would it take to make Edmonton Transit that truly world class mobility network? How do we get to where transit isn’t the thing you HAVE TO use, but the mobility system you WANT to use?
To gain some insight, I went for a ride with Giselle General, Chair of the Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board. We spent a Sunday morning traveling from the west end to downtown, the university and back to West Edmonton Mall, using a mix of buses, LRT and On-Demand.
I expected some long waits on a Sunday morning, but remarkably, we didn’t wait very long for any of the pickups. Buses were on time. On Demand buses came when beckoned and their progress could be tracked with a phone app.
But there were a lot of other gaps. Things that seemed easily corrected but which could easily discourage an occasional rider.
One bus we rode had no visible information about who to call or text in case of an emergency or if feeling unsafe.
The LRT car had emergency buttons and strips, but they were not consistent or obvious. Frequent riders know what to do, I expect. First time riders? Not likely.
The day we rode LRT replacement bus service was in place downtown. One forlorn sign and a locked door gave us a clue that the Corona station was closed. We managed to find the LRT replacement stop. A visitor to Edmonton would have no idea.
At no point did I feel unsafe. But there were a couple of times that, if I were a lone female passenger, I would think twice.
Fixable things. A little care and attention. Consistent placement of signage and direction. Things that when they are done well, you might not notice, but when they are not done, decrease your confidence.
I was born and raised in Edmonton. I took transit to school from grade 5 on. I became comfortable with the system, but it wasn’t great - three buses to get to high school, two buses to get to the U of A. And if you wanted to get anywhere besides the major nodes (or anywhere at all on the weekends), forget it.
Like others that grew up in Edmonton, you used transit until you could afford your car. Once you got your car, you didn’t have much use for transit, or see the need to invest in transit.
I think this is one reason why I get a lot of complaints that transit is a waste of money. Transit is seen as a burden to be endured, not a service to be invested in.
The folly of that perspective is now more evident. Not everybody can afford a car, and the City cannot continue to build a mobility system solely focused on cars. Not from an affordability standpoint, not from a climate standpoint, and certainly not from a time management standpoint.
Transit is not a business (although there is a lot of room for business ethics when it comes to efficiency and effectiveness). To actually cover all the costs of the service would require fares approaching $10.
A transit vehicle with “only one or two” passengers is not a waste of money. It's a lifeline for those that have no other option.
A system that is perceived as safe, reliable, timely, warm and connected will compete with other forms of mobility. If we build that system, we can encourage people to use it, and when they do, they will be presently surprised. They will use it again. Demand will grow, and support for transit investment will follow.
But it starts with those little things, those nagging little matters that individually don’t seem important but collectively eat away at comfort and confidence. If we are going to invest in, augment and invest in the system, we need to start paying attention to the little things.
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