A regional transit service between Edmonton and St. Albert is one step closer to being established after both city councils agreed to establish a commission for that purpose.
On Monday, St. Albert councillors approved a memorandum of understanding to establish the Regional Transit Services Commission with Edmonton. Edmonton councillors approved the memorandum the following day.
The memorandum represents the first phase of work done by the Joint City Managers’ Regional Commuter Service Task Force, which included St. Albert councillors Wes Brodhead and Cathy Heron as well as Edmonton councillors Dave Loken and Michael Walters.
Monday’s decision means council will be petitioning the provincial government to provide financial assistance to complete the second phase of implementing a joint transit service. An administrative report notes cost estimates include $1.7 million for the first year and $2 million for the second year of that phase.
Coun. Wes Brodhead said the decision represents the first of three phases in the creation of a commission that would develop a regional transit service. The memorandum includes a voting structure Brodhead says was designed to protect all municipalities who sign on.
St. Albert transit director Kevin Bamber said the commission will focus on linking transit services between Edmonton and St. Albert.
“We still anticipate it will be two to three years before the regional service becomes operational,” he said.
“Support from all the municipalities in the region will be pivotal to the successful realization of the aggressive vision outlined in the memorandum of understanding.”
Ron Glen, the chair of the task force that developed the memorandum, said one of the clearest benefits of the memorandum is that other municipalities can sign on as well.
“The commission structure … can support any number of participants to expand services geographically and to add more services over time as participating councils agree,” he said.
However, the financial impact of the commission is not yet clear.
Coun. Sheena Hughes, who voted against the motion to accept the memorandum, pointed to estimated cost impacts to St. Albert that could range from $600,000 to $1.6 million annually and questioned whether a regional service would save the city money.
A cost impact report reviewed by council noted the city would need five additional buses.
“There’s too much time, money and commitment (to) put into it before we even know what the total costs are, and yet we’re expected to agree with it blindly and just trust that it will all work out in the end,” Hughes said.
She added St. Albert would no longer have full say over its transit service.
Councillors Tim Osborne and Cam MacKay, who ultimately supported the motion, agreed there are still many financial questions that need to be answered.
MacKay said in order to justify losing some control over its transit service, St. Albert needs to make sure the proposed joint service will save money.
“You can’t show up and say, ‘We’re going to lose control of our transit service and it’s going to cost you more,’ ” he said.
“If that’s the proposal, it provides no value to the residents of St. Albert.”
Brodhead said the question of ongoing operating costs cannot yet be answered because figures will change depending on how many other municipalities sign on to the memorandum of understanding.
If the province agrees to provide financial assistance, the city will appoint two councillors to the commission’s transition team.