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A tight spot

People need to get around. Be it by bus, boat, plane, bicycle, e-scooter, car or on foot, mobilization is critical to society’s function. It is not only of convenience and freedom to move, it is also critical to the economy.
opinion

People need to get around. 

Be it by bus, boat, plane, bicycle, e-scooter, car or on foot, mobilization is critical to society’s function. It is not only of convenience and freedom to move, it is also critical to the economy. Supply chain issues caused by the pandemic hit the point home.

How we move, and how much it costs, is key. As individuals, we weigh the cost of buying a vehicle, and all the associated costs, against alternatives. In St. Albert, the alternatives are bicycle, e-scooter, bus or good old fashioned walking. Of those transportation options (not withstanding infrastructure costs), only one costs all taxpayers a material amount, and that is the bus. 

Regional transit, in conception, sounded like a good idea. Its origin was envisioned with 13 regional municipalities. A couple of years later, the league of 13 is now eight. Opting out are five municipalities in the region, including Morinville, Sturgeon County and Strathcona County. Loss of direct decision-making control over their own public transportation operations and a questionable economic case, and no need for regional transit (i.e. Sturgeon County) are cited as reasons for leaving the regional group.

St. Albert has stuck with the regional transit plan, so far, but it is unclear why. Next year, St. Albert ratepayers will pay an extra $1.5 million to be a part of regional transit, adding to an already large tax hike. What do ratepayers get in return? Three commuter routes during peak hours with increased frequency. The data to support ridership numbers to justify the expense is to be determined.

Edmonton, obviously the region’s largest player, is debating its future vis-à-vis regional transit. On the table is an extra $10.3 million in cost for the city next year.

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said that without Edmonton’s full participation in the regional transit network, St. Albert is unlikely to realize the benefits – benefits which are hard to envision given the extra cost, even if Edmonton sticks with the program.St. Albert’s regional transit fate hinges on Edmonton’s complete commitment.

Other councillors, like Ken MacKay,have trepidation because the city is currently on the hook for an extra $1.5 million next year, without a clear road map to any cost savings in subsequent years.

With the costs growing and no added value, taxpayers are right to wonder two things: how St. Albert ended up in this position, and how does St. Albert extricate itself from regional transit as it exists today?

Today (Thursday), council is expected to debate its tenuous position in regional transit. Without a convincing argument as to why St. Albert taxpayers should be paying an extra $1.5 million in 2023 for essentially the same transit service that exists today suggests there is no debate.

There is one major hurdle to clear, however. Getting out of the regional transit agreement could cost untold sums,as there is already existing debt on the books, potential penalties and 2023 financial obligations. The old adage, “In for a penny, in for a pound” has renewed meaning.