Many will know that city council is being asked to upload our St. Albert Transit into a regional system, responsible to provide service to the entire Edmonton metro area. During this budget season, St. Albert City Council must decide whether we will participate in Phase 1 of the initiative. Regional transit is a great idea. It’s appropriate that duplications of efforts and costs are eliminated. No question.
But, there are hiccups in the current scheme. Here’s a brief list for you to consider:
1. It won’t apply to the whole region. Five partners, including the second largest, Strathcona County, have opted out, along with their millions of dollars of budget share. Their council decided that the regional system they have works perfectly well and the risk is too high and the reward too low.
2. We already have a regional system that includes all partners. Buses come and go to all regional municipalities that would be served by the “regional system” PLUS Strathcona County. The Regional Fare initiative is proof that we don’t need a new layer of bureaucracy to work together.
3. There are added costs to this initiative. They want us to pay a one-and-a-half per cent tax hike to fund it — with no additional service. We’re already on the hook for their operating line of credit. They promised it would cost LESS, not MORE. The demand for more and more money will never end, AND…
4. Municipalities will give up direct control of their systems to Regional. Council will be expected to pay the bill and will have no direct say into where service is provided. Unless, of course, they want to pay more yet.
5. There’s only so much city budget to go around. If we fund this flawed plan, what other valuable and viable initiatives will lose out, when we already have a great transit system?
6. Service hours will be uploaded to Regional and dumped into a bucket, then re-distributed by the commission. Will STAT riders give up service hours to provide more service to regional municipalities? It seems so. What other service reductions can we expect?
Regional CEO Paul Jankowsky, when asked what his vision for an operating model is, replied “It’s too soon to tell.” But they plan to put service on the road next spring.
When promoting the scheme, St. Albert City Councilor Wes Brodhead, chair of the commission, said “We’re going to save you some money!” No one is saying that anymore, as the bills keep piling up and municipalities keep getting asked for more.
It's time other municipalities, notably St. Albert, took a good look at Strathcona County’s rationale for pulling out. Or, maybe there should be a good hard look at where all the money is being spent. Any way I look at it, paying more to get less is never a good deal.
Steve Bradshaw, president, Amalgamated Transit Union