By Doug Neuman
Integrating St. Albert and Edmonton transit systems moved a step closer to reality this week.
The City of Edmonton’s transportation committee voted May 27 to recommend the city work with St. Albert to draft a plan to integrate the two cities’ transit systems.
St. Albert Coun. Wes Brodhead, who proposed exploring an integrated transit system last summer, said he was pleased with the decision but acknowledges the real work is only just beginning.
“It will be a challenge,” he said. “To say that this is going to be easy work over the next year or however long it takes wouldn’t be fair to the process nor to the challenges before both councils and administration.”
One of the biggest challenges will be ensuring an integrated system works equitably for two very different systems and communities. As of 2013, Edmonton’s system had an annual ridership of 87 million dwarfing St. Albert’s 1.2 million, and an operating budget of $281 million compared to just $10 million.
More important for Brodhead is ensuring any integrated system is set up in such a way that local decision-makers are able to respond to local needs.
“The organization needs to be agile enough to respond locally as well as regionally,” he said.
Mayor Nolan Crouse, who is also chair of the Capital Region Board that represents more than two-dozen municipalities in the capital region, said integrated transit is a good opportunity for both municipalities, and could serve as a template for fully integrated regional transit in the future.
“We’re a long ways off from starting to see something that’s more seamless, but like everything else you start somewhere and move forward,” he said.
He echoed Brodhead’s sentiment that it will take a lot of work to come up with a structure that will work for all parties and the sooner that work begins, the better.
“I don’t know what the governance model will look like long-term, but what I do know is the bigger the region gets in terms of population, the more difficult it will become to have some sort of integration in the years ahead,” he said.
Brodhead said one of the key elements in making an integrated system successful would be ensuring land-use planning and transit planning are considered together rather than as two separate entities.
He said he believes that as the “spine” of public transit expands, high-density development nodes tend to occur naturally along the transit system, and it will be crucial for both municipalities to acknowledge this and work it into their long-range plans.
“The whole idea of an integrated transit network requires forethought around the issue of land-use planning,” he said. “That’s of significant importance to the region.”
Once Edmonton City Council approves its committee’s recommendation, it will come up with its half of the $250,000 project budget, which St. Albert council approved late last month, and the two cities’ administrations will work together to create a draft plan.
A progress report is scheduled for next March, with a final report in September 2016. At that point, there would be stakeholder engagement. A final decision could be made in early 2017.