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Counties flag transit problem

New rules for buses make it illegal for St. Albert Transit to cross the Anthony Henday into Edmonton, says Sturgeon County's mayor, and he wants the province to fix them.

New rules for buses make it illegal for St. Albert Transit to cross the Anthony Henday into Edmonton, says Sturgeon County's mayor, and he wants the province to fix them.

The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties supported a motion last week from Sturgeon County at its annual conference in Edmonton. The motion, tabled by Sturgeon County Mayor Don Rigney, called on the province to revise the timing and requirements of its new Bus Modernization Initiative that kicked in last October. That initiative brought in new requirements for transit buses driven on provincial highways between communities that Rigney says no transit bus in North America can meet. "None of these transit buses can be legally driven on a provincial highway."

That means any bus that leaves Edmonton and crosses Anthony Henday Drive is technically in violation of provincial law, Rigney said — bad news for regional transit and the county's bus service to the Edmonton Garrison.

"If we're going to have any kind of regional transit in this area, we have to have a delay or a deferral or a change in this by the Alberta government."

No solution in sight

The new rules affect all of St. Albert's routes into Edmonton, according to Bob McDonald, director of St. Albert Transit, because they use Hwy. 2 when they cross the Anthony Henday.

The regulations came about as part of the province's plans to deregulate the commuter bus industry, said Trent Bancarz, spokesperson for Alberta Transportation.

Since the 1960s, Bancarz said, the province has required companies like Greyhound to send buses to rural communities in exchange for limits on competition, the idea being that the more popular routes would offset the losses on the rural ones. That system has fallen apart as rural ridership has plummeted. The province opened up the bus market in July in hopes that other companies would take over these rural routes.

Those services need operating authority certificates to drive outside of their home cities, Bancarz said, and those certificates require buses to have dual rear axels to avoid crushing highways with their weight.

But bus manufacturers don't make dual-axle transit buses, McDonald said — they're all single-axle. Companies could switch to coach buses, but that would be incredibly expensive, and could cause traffic problems as those huge buses try to turn on residential streets.

There are other problems as well, Bancarz notes: most buses don't have tires rated for highway speeds, for example, and many let passengers ride standing up — not a good idea on the highway.

St. Albert Transit's buses do not meet the new standards for highway travel, McDonald said. If the province decides to enforce these new regulations, "we wouldn't be able to run any buses into Edmonton."

These rules are "a work in progress," Bancarz said, and the province is working with companies to fix the bugs. For now, it's giving groups like St. Albert Transit five-year exemptions from the rules so they can continue to operate.

"The intent is not at all to limit regional transit. It is to encourage it."

St. Albert Transit warned the province about these problems two years ago, said a resigned McDonald.

"I think the province is the one that's going to have to explain why it's a problem that we're running urban transit buses that they're funding on their highways."

The province has to figure out a solution eventually, McDonald said. "An obvious one hasn't appeared."

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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