Edmonton's New Transit Strategy: Sim's take and perspective - Elect Sim for Ward 10

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Edmonton's New Transit Strategy: Sim's take and perspective

Earlier this week, Mr. Marcelo Figueira, an urban designer and manager at Pario Plan Inc. asked me and the other Ward 10 City Council candidates, what we thought about Edmonton's Transit Strategy that was announced earlier this week.  I didn't want to write a quick 140 character response  on Twitter to answer Marcelo's question before I had a chance to at least skim through the whole 86 page strategy document (which can be found here). 

First I would like to thank him for engaging with me as a Ward 10 constituent (and also for being patient and waiting until now to read my response). I look forward to posting detailed answers to any other future question that's near and dear to the hearts of our Ward 10 (and #yeg) residents. I believe that will help you better understand my priorities as a Council candidate, and make it easier for you to decide on whether I can represent your values and priorities at the City Council.

As I was reading through the Strategy document in between prior commitments over the weekend, there have been a couple new developments related to the new transit strategy, that's worth mentioning. On Saturday, June 24th bus drivers from ATU Local 569 came together to rally against the new transit strategy. Progress Alberta, an independent, non-profit group dedicated to building a more progressive Alberta, also came out on Friday, with a detailed review of the transit strategy. Although they appear to be much more supportive of the new plan than the local bus drivers union, they also expressed concerns about one major area of the plan: i.e. privatization of the local/low ridership routes.

Compared to some other parts of Edmonton, Ward 10 residents have been somewhat luckier when it comes to public transit. After all LRT went right through our old Ward boundaries in the south side and we've benefited from having a relatively wide network of feeder routes to the LRT. However, the new communities added to our Ward reaching all the way to Allard and 41 Ave. SW pose new challenges, when it comes to transit service. They don't have the convenient and frequent bus services connecting them to the LRT, nor do they have sufficient/affordable park & ride options. We also had some routes with low ridership numbers, some of which have already been cancelled (or had their frequency reduced even further) earlier this month. (i.e. list of routes impacted can be found here)

As someone who lived (and commuted to work every morning) in cities like New York City, Istanbul, Prague, Poznan, Ankara, Bursa, Antalya, as well as small North American cities like Arroyo Grande, (CA) and West Lafayette (IN) I am well aware of the differences and challenges of providing service in a city like Edmonton. A lot of European cities have the advantage of much higher population density. They are walkable cities with established "centres" that are main "destinations". In a city like Edmonton, with such high percentages of "single houses" compared to some of cities I mentioned above, and the additional challenge of the harsh/long winters, we need to be realistic about what's achievable within a certain budget.

From that perspective, I fully support the fundamental principles outlined in the new strategy. Establishing core service areas, with frequent bus service can also guide our future urban planning efforts. It will make perfect sense to encourage the type of "development" to increase population density on these routes.  The routes will enjoy more ridership, and the city will easily be able to increase bus frequency on those routes if demand further increases in the future. In time (just like it happened in the many cities I lived before) certain areas of the city will emerge as natural locations appealing to a certain type of city resident (i.e. those who prefer to use public transportation). Similarly, offering "express service" to main transit centres or other "high demand attractions" from the outer suburbs will offer a more viable alternative to other residents who prefer to live in the new neighborhoods but could easily be convinced to leave the car at home if there was a viable alternative that could get them to their work faster and cheaper than driving themselves. OK may be not exactly faster (but at least in a comparable commute).

I am not as concerned about the "privatization" option as the Progressive Alberta group, although I sincerely hope the council doesn't automatically think of "Uber" as the potential and only solution for this. There are alternative private solutions. In my native country of Turkey, we have a long history of utilizing what we call "dollmush". These are ride share solutions with established routes. I believe in socially responsible decision making. There are serious allegations and controversies surrounding Uber, so I wouldn't particularly be ready to jump on board to partner with them but I would be open to looking at other alternatives. We shouldn't be dismissing the bus drivers' concerns completely. They are the front line people interacting with the transit users. Hence, I think it's the responsibility of the "planners" to at least engage with them in a meaningful way to understand and hopefully address their concerns.

Change is never easy, and never perfect. There will always be some growing pains, and adjustments along the way to fine tune a process, but overall I support the new plan. I encourage Ward 10 and other city residents to leave comments on my blog page. I would be happy to hear what you think.

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