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Strathcona County says "no" to regional transit

Mayor Rod Frank said unanimous vote borne out of concerns about autonomy, lack of service improvement
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FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

Wheels carrying the concept of a regional transit commission forward were punctured this week, after Strathcona County unanimously voted against the idea.

Strathcona County would have been the second-biggest player within the commission, holding 26 per cent share if approved, but on Tuesday its council voted against joining the Regional Transit Services Commission (RTSC), saying the commission would not create better service or savings.

While the case for regional transit “without a doubt” would have been better with Strathcona County, RTSC transition team chair and St. Albert city councillor Wes Brodhead said the initiative is not defeated.

Strathcona County Mayor Rod Frank said the commission was advanced as a way to create efficient transit, but his council did not see that reflected in a business case released last month.

“We do agree that there's ways to improve service in the region, (and) we'll continue to work on that. But this particular proposal – it didn't give any meaningful service increases to the people of Strathcona County,” he said.

On Feb. 2, St. Albert became the first municipality to say yes to joining the commission, of the 13 municipalities included in the RTSC business case. No other municipalities have voted yet, but Edmonton is set to make a decision on Wednesday.

Brodhead said he was disappointed but unsurprised by Strathcona County’s decision.

“The thing that surprised me about it is they sat at the table (and) developed the whole plan. They were a part of all of it,” he said.

Regional transit is purported to save up to 850 service hours per week, and dollars in the range of $3.4 million across the region once the commission is fully standing in 2026.

Frank said those savings are only conceptual and would not even be realized by member municipalities. The RTSC has said it would retain those savings to continue improving service.

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said the commission tried to assuage Strathcona County's concerns.

“We tried to address all their concerns and ... it was an unfortunate decision.”

Strathcona County also had major concerns with handing over control of its transit services. Frank said currently if a resident calls with a transit-related issue, he can talk to his council and the transit department and work out a solution.

"In the future, if this particular commission was fired up, I would be one voice of 13.”

The commission’s proposed voting would rely on a combination of a straight two-thirds majority, combined with a two-thirds majority based on municipal share of cost.

Frank said his council worried they would be unable to withdraw from the commission at a later date, if it costs municipalities more than they were promised when Edmonton fully uploads its transit network. Only 19 per cent of Edmonton's routes would be part of the commission at first; that city's routes would be fully uploaded after 2026, beyond the financial outlook of the business case.

While Strathcona County voted no to the current commission, Frank said they would be willing to return to the table in the future with alternative proposals.

“Anything that's going to improve transit in the region, we will be at the table,” he said.

Heron called the decision "short-sighted" and said she hopes Strathcona County comes around in the future.

“If anyone in Strathcona is reading this ... at some point in the future, I hope they understand that it was a bit of a short sighted decision, and that they would reconsider joining the commission at some point in the future.”

Commission not dead

Brodhead said the commission has not been defeated yet, adding there are still 11 other votes to count. But Edmonton, St. Albert and Strathcona County would have held a combined 87 per cent share of the commission.

He pointed out the commission initially began as a project between Edmonton and St. Albert, and the other 11 municipalities only joined later.

“If the initiative fails this time, I mean it'll come eventually, it just will,” Brodhead said. “As the region grows, the imperative to do this will just mount and mount and mount.”

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