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Morinville drops public transit pilot project

Pilot, transit commission too costly during COVID-19, council hears
morinville sign CC 5294
CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

Morinville’s pilot bus project has been cancelled due to the pandemic, and so has the town’s $180,000-a-year commitment to a regional transit commission.

Morinville council voted 6-0 June 23 (Coun. Rebecca Balanko absent) to cancel a proposed pilot transit study with the City of St. Albert this fall and to sign on as a non-paying, non-voting advising stakeholder with the Regional Transit Services Commission.

Morinville was one of nine Edmonton-area governments to ask the province to create a regional transit commission in mid-June. Said group, if approved, would establish a common transit network for the capital region by 2022 that included a route between St. Albert and Morinville.

Town council asked administration earlier this year to set up a pilot bus route with St. Albert to gauge public interest in transit.

Community and infrastructure services manager Iain Bushell told council the pilot would involve a morning and evening run between St. Albert and Morinville weekdays during the post-secondary year (Sept. 1, 2020, to April 30, 2021) and cost $46,332.

“We’d need upwards of 20 people on every single bus, every single day, to even come close to breaking even,” he said, which was unlikely even under ideal circumstances.

The pandemic added further complications, council heard. St. Albert Transit had reported a 90-per-cent drop in ridership since March and suspended fares until July 1, and many post-secondary institutions have planned to run most of their courses online this fall. Bushell said it was unlikely a pilot under these circumstances would give the town an accurate read on transit use, and recommended against holding it.

Without the pilot, town chief administrative officer Stephane Labonne said he could not recommend that the town join the commission as a full member at a cost of about $180,000 a year. He advised council to join the counties of Leduc, Sturgeon and Parkland and join as a non-voting, non-paying advising stakeholder – one that would not receive service from the commission.

In an interview, Mayor Barry Turner said this isn’t a good time for a transit pilot, as COVID-19 has thrown transit systems into disarray. That pilot was meant to help council gauge the cost of transit inside and outside the regional commission.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to contribute to a service we don’t provide,” Turner said, and the commission wouldn’t start running buses to Morinville before 2022.

Turner said Morinville is still “100 per cent” behind the commission and there are many seniors, students and commuters in town who need transit. The town would have a better idea as to when it could sign on as a paying member of the commission once it understands how the pandemic has affected its finances.

St. Albert Coun. Wes Brodhead, who chairs the commission’s transition team, said he understands, but is saddened by, the town’s decision. Morinville’s departure means St. Albert and other communities will have to bear more of the commission’s costs, but those costs arestill less than the price of everyone running their own bus service.

“I’m hoping next year (Morinville) can run the pilot, get a really good handle on what their transit demand is, and then enter into the commission at that time,” Brodhead said.

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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