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Morinville joins regional transit commission

Proposes summer transit pilot to St. Albert
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Morinville has voted to join a regional transit commission, and is looking to do a possible transit pilot project to St. Albert. FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

Morinville has signed onto a proposed regional transit commission, and may hold a test-drive for regional transit this fall with St. Albert.

Morinville council voted 6-0 (Coun. Nicole Boutestein absent) on Feb. 25 to support the enactment of provincial regulations to create a regional transit service commission for the Edmonton metro region, with Morinville as a member.

Edmonton-area governments have been studying the creation of a regional transit service for many years, mostly recently through the Regional Transit Services Commission transition team. That group’s final report in January found that a regional transit system could save area governments a net $3.4 million a year by 2026 and bring bus service to Morinville.

The commission has now been waiting on its 13 members to vote on whether or not to proceed with a regional transit system. As of Feb. 26, Beaumont, Devon, Edmonton, Leduc, Morinville, St. Albert, Stony Plain, Parkland County and Leduc County had said yes, while Strathcona County had said no. Sturgeon County, Spruce Grove and Fort Saskatchewan are set to vote later this year.

Morinville chief administrative officer Stephane Labonne said transit is an important part of many of the town’s long-range plans, and joining the commission would get the town peak-hours weekday bus service to St. Albert for about $190,000 a year by 2026 – cheaper than the cost of setting up an independent bus service. However, Strathcona County’s recent decision to drop out could affect the costs of regional transit for everyone else.

“This is just the first milestone,” Labonne said, and the town would have at least two other opportunities to drop out of the commission if it changes its mind.

Coun. Sarah Hall, who served on the commission’s transition team, said the Edmonton region’s population is set to double in 20 years, and that Morinville needs transit if it is to draw in some of those new residents. Transit was also one of the top priorities identified in the town’s recent community needs assessment.

“By joining the (commission) we are serving our now and future residents’ best interests,” Hall said.

Morinville had a commuter bus line with St. Albert for about 10 years but cancelled it in 2010 due to low demand.

But times have changed, and we’re seeing more and more people take an interest in transit, said Coun. Scott Richardson. Coun. Rebecca Balanko noted transit would be vital for future residents of the Jessie’s House shelter whom otherwise might not have any way to leave town.

Transit is part of a complete community, and this commission would be a solid investment in the town’s future, said Mayor Barry Turner. Still, it wouldn’t be cheap: the town’s annual cost to be in the commission is equivalent to a two-per-cent tax hike.

“The opportunities here are significant,” Turner said, but the town has to make sure Morinville is ready for transit first.

Bus test drive?

Council backed motions from Hall to gauge Morinville’s interest in transit through public consultation and a possible pilot project with St. Albert.

While Morinville did do a two-month pilot transit study with its own community bus in 2018, Turner said in an interview that said study was too limited to gauge attitudes toward transit, as it ran just twice a day and just on Mondays. Just five to eight people a week took the bus during that pilot.

Turner said this new pilot would mirror the proposed regional commission’s service with a bus run between St. Albert and Morinville during peak weekday hours from September to December to gauge public interest. Labonne is to come back with a report on how the pilot could be funded later this year.

Assuming the province draws up the necessary regulations, the regional transit commission is set to have buses on the road in around 2022.

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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