Edmonton council votes to leave regional transit service plan
A majority of Edmonton City Council voted Wednesday night to back out of a capital region transit plan — a decision estimated at $15 million — citing costs and inefficiency.
Before the Council voted to increase Edmonton Transit Service’s operating expenses by $10.22 million in 2023 and an additional $2.87 million in years thereafter to become part of the Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Services Commission (EMTSC) to become.
According to the administration, this would lead to an estimated tax increase of 0.6 percent.
Earlier budget considerations had left the potential tax increase for Edmontonians at around five percent.
Or the council could decide to give the required one year’s notice of its intention to exit the already signed transit contract, in which case it would still have to pay for an interim year of regional service and any costs associated with exiting the order. City Manager Andre Corbould said the total price is in the region of $15 million.
“IT’S ONLY TIME”: CRACK
The transit service, scheduled to start in late April, will connect the communities of Beaumont, Devon, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, St. Albert, Spruce Grove and Stony Plain with buses, using existing resources and employees.
“If we all believe in regional transit, I think it’s time to do it. We checked other options. And sure, we could say no today and spend another 10 years taking the model into the future and probably end up coming back to the same thing we have today,” Coun. Andrew Knack, who sits on the board of the Transit Commission, told his colleagues.
“I think it’s just about time we take the next step.”
“REAL MONEY SUCKS”: RUTHERFORD
But Knack couldn’t convince all of his colleagues that the plan as it stood would result in better bus service and was worth the overhead of oversight by the commission.
“I don’t know how we can justify to Edmonton residents that we’re taking a risk on a very expensive pilot, that we’re going to invest at least $10 million over five years,” commented Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, who voted against the idea.
“It broke my heart to vote against a lawn mowing motion four times. I voted against a motion that would have given hard-working 15 full-time employees permanent benefits,” he said, referring to previous budget decisions. “Every decision we’ve made so far today has been focused on delivering value and value to Edmonton residents… The things we’ve approved are more important than this financial hole in my opinion .”
count. Jo-Anne Wright reiterated, “I think we’re still throwing good money after bad.”
Ward Anirniq Councilwoman Erin Rutherford asked, “Is it the right investment at the right time?”
“I see that as a real lack of money. And while we’re already at the point of tax pressure we’re at, I need to reconsider some of the mass transit choices we’ve made. I’m going to do my best to ensure that’s at least covered because I don’t think we can do both,” she said ahead of the vote.
5 for, 8 against
Councilors Tim Cartmell, Jennifer Rice, Sarah Hamilton and Karen Principe voted in favor of the regional transit plan, alongside Knack.
“That’s a good idea. It will ultimately result in a much better system for our region. It’s the table stakes to attract foreign investment,” Cartmell argued.
But he also said he supports the plan from a community partnership perspective.
“Again, my point here is to make a commitment — whether it’s to various subsets of our market or the private sector, whether it’s individual neighborhoods or communities or whether it’s to other members of the region — that we make a commitment and based on our engagement, they make investments, they make decisions, and then we reverse the field and that impacts them,” he commented.
“It worries me that’s the reputation we’re getting.”
“Look,” Coun. Aaron Paquette said, “I agree: regional collaboration is really, really important and important. And I think we actually have good relationships. I have served on regional boards. I speak regularly with our regional partners. And from what I can tell, the region isn’t really fully geared towards that.”
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Paquette said he’s always been open about the Transit Commission. But adding another “layer of bureaucracy” to transit operations is harder to justify, he said.
“I have a community [in my ward] that doesn’t even have transit,” Paquette said. “There’s no way I can go back to them and look them in the eye and say, ‘Yeah, no, we’re sending it [buses] out into the region.”
“Unlike the redesign of the bus network, which took us years of deep engagement with our communities and Edmonton residents, we didn’t have the same level of commitment … about transferring our entire service to another organization, and that’s kind of big decision.”
While work to build the commission has been ongoing for more than eight years, Sohi said he still does not see the long-term benefits of building the new metro Edmonton Transportation Authority.
“There is no analysis, no data collected or reports produced that would have shown this benefit, especially since so much has changed since the pandemic,” Sohi told reporters on Thursday.
“What I voted against was creating a very expensive governance model,” he said, adding that nearly 40 percent of Edmonton’s annual fee to the commission would be spent on overheads.
“This is money taken from frontline service.”
Several Council members expressed an interest in exploring how the ETS service could be boosted to provide similar connectivity to the regional network but at a cheaper price.
ST. ALBERT, LEDUC MAYOR DISAPPOINTED
St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron told CTV News Edmonton she was “beyond disappointed” by the decision, which ended nearly a decade of her work.
“I’ve been committed to regional collaboration and regional service delivery for almost 12 years, and I just don’t feel that commitment from Edmonton right now,” Heron said.
She pointed out how the project began with then-Mayor Don Iveson, Coun. Michael Walters and Wes Broadhead, Councilors of St Albert.
“I feel like Edmonton torpedoed the whole project,” Heron said.
She believed that creating a regional commission would be the best way to build up transit services in the participating communities and cited a business case that also came to the same conclusion.
“When you spend millions of dollars on a study and they say yes, that’s the best way, that’s the best way,” she added.
“This signals the end of the Regional Transit Commission, but I don’t think Regional Transit is dead,” Leduc Mayor Bob Young said said on Twitter. “I am confident that we can still build a regional system without a commission.”
The Transit Commission approved a Net operating budget of $25 million for 2023 in November. Operating costs for the 13-lane system were approximately $29 million and expected revenue is $4 million.
Also that month, the St. Albert City Council also approved a 1.2 percent property tax increase to 5.8 percent to reflect increased transit costs, including its role in the EMTSC, which received an unexpected $1.5 million in 2023. dollars would cost. St Albert Councilwoman Sheena Hughes recently suggested her city reconsider its involvement in the deal.
Knack said economic development agencies have always indicated that a regional transit system is a major draw for new businesses and workers moving to the Edmonton area.
“That’s what people are looking for,” he said. “I’m really, really concerned about what the message is that we’re sending to the rest of the region. The region committed, they put it in their budget[s].”
Paquette disagreed with the notion that without a commission structure, the concept of regional transit is dead. He believes the way forward lies in closer collaboration between all municipal management teams to iron out memorandums of understanding and performance agreements.
“What we found [with the commission model] was that it wasn’t actually going to be as comprehensive as we had hoped and it was duplicating things that we were already able to do,” he said.
Representing the Edmonton Transit Workers, Steve Bradshaw agreed, calling the commission a “flawed” ideal, particularly given the Arc map, which he described as the core of a regional transit system.
“It is only [been] a long line of cost issues,” said Bradshaw, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569.
“We’re in with a pretty big snag right now,” he added. “This is our opportunity to get out, cut our losses and move to a real system.”
With files by Jeremy Thompson and Stephanie Prues of CTV News Edmonton