Transit integration research to begin in earnest

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St. Albert is about to take the first steps towards integrating the city’s transit operations with Edmonton.

At Monday’s council meeting, the councillors unanimously approved a proposed work plan developed by staff from both cities to start exploring the concept and report back next year.

St. Albert’s also providing up to $125,000 from the reserves to fund the city’s share of the costs to develop that report. It’s set to be funded in a 50-50 split between St. Albert and Edmonton.

The work plan, which will proceed if approved by the City of Edmonton, will see the two cities transit branches start detailed research looking at everything from the compatibility of the assets to fare policy to a 10-year fiscal plan to potential governance structures.

“This cannot create another level of bureaucracy,” said city manager Patrick Draper.

Dorian Wandzura, the City of Edmonton’s transportation general manager, said his city sees transit as a city-transforming opportunity. He was on hand to address questions from council.

The report presented on Monday, which is the work of staff from both cities plus a facilitator, says “there is little doubt that the current siloed approach is falling short.”

It talked about individual vehicle commuting leading to a car-based culture “that gradually undermines our quality of life” and talked about the costs of congestion.

The report said in 2012 there were 93,960 drivers doing daily trips between Edmonton and St. Albert, and projected that by 2047 there would be 144,780. That didn’t include passengers or transit, which added thousands more people.

Draper highlighted for council that while this work is starting off with just Edmonton and St. Albert at the table, if anything went forward it would be designed to allow other municipalities to integrate with the organization.

Coun. Wes Brodhead, who kick-started this process with a motion last fall, said he wanted it that way because it is easier to deal with just a few voices at the table initially.

“Quite honestly the reason why it is only Edmonton and St. Albert, is to make the governance question a whole lot easier,” Brodhead said. He said other communities are interested, answering questions from Coun. Sheena Hughes and Cam MacKay about why only St. Albert and Edmonton are involved with this project.

Hughes and MacKay did vote with the majority but not without raising several questions they want answered in the next report.

MacKay said while the report given to council Monday is well written, he is concerned about its objectivity.

“It didn’t have any cons or analysis or anything for us to look at,” MacKay said, also adding he’s not sure how owning an automobile decreases quality of life.

Hughes said she wants less of a one-sided final report, and that she wants the detailed cost breakdowns.

She also wondered why Edmonton would be willing to take on St. Albert, and fretted about St. Albert losing its voice in decision making and having to help pay for Edmonton’s LRT plans.

Wandzura said the City of Edmonton views this as a push for better services for the region, and noted as the region grows people will continue to cross municipal boundaries.

Coun. Gilles Prefontaine pointed out that council shouldn’t be “so naÄ‚Ĺ»ve” as to believe that individual automobiles aren’t subsidized, because tax dollars go towards roads.

Brodhead said the reality is the capital region will only continue to grow, and planning for that needs to start.

“I think it’s good for the region. I think that in the end we’ll be proud of what we built in this,” he said.

The City of Edmonton still needs to approve proceeding with the work plan.

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