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Province throws support behind regional transit

A joint transit commission between St. Albert and Edmonton is now backed by provincial funding and can move forward with plans to establish regional transit services.
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The City of St. Albert and the City of Edmonton have got provincial funding to take the next step in creating a regional transit service.

A joint transit commission between St. Albert and Edmonton is now backed by provincial funding and can move forward with plans to establish regional transit services.

On March 27, Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson informed Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson in a letter that the Regional Transit Services Commission would receive $3.735 million in one-time funding through the Alberta Community Partnership (ACP) program.

Edmonton and St. Albert have been lobbying the province for funding since September 2017, when both city councils approved a memorandum of understanding for a commission overseeing the implementation of regional transit services, at an estimated cost of $1.7 million in the first year and $2 million in the second year.

The memorandum was developed by a regional commuter task force with representatives from both communities.

Mayor Cathy Heron said Edmonton applied for the ACP funding on St. Albert's behalf, following advice from Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Brian Mason.

Mason had initially turned down a request for $2 million in funding, she said, advising them instead on what grants they should be applying for.

Heron said she was excited to hear about the funding approval and would be co-ordinating with Iveson to convene the task force in order to determine next steps.

Coun. Wes Brodhead said he learned about the funding approval while in a meeting with Iveson.

"He tapped me on the shoulder and he said, 'Wes, we got the money. Can you believe we got the money?' " Brodhead said.

"It was a good day."

He expects the next step will be developing a commission model and determining what a regional transit service should look like. From there, the next phase will be to start operating.

"It's exciting for me, given my particular passion for public transit and the value it brings to the community," he said.

"Hopefully I'll be a part of it when we cut the ribbon for the first bus moving."

The commission is expected to have cost impacts for St. Albert, although numbers are uncertain.

When city council approved September's memorandum, they also reviewed a cost impact report that suggested the city would need five additional buses and regional service could cost the city between $600,000 and $1.6 million annually

Engaging the region

Brodhead said the task force will be inviting regional communities to take part in the commission, which was always designed to be a regional initiative.

"The end in mind is a commission that would provide public transit services within the region – not just Edmonton and St. Albert, and not just commuter service, but an expanded capacity to provide services, whatever they might be," he said.

The task force began with just St. Albert and Edmonton in order to be able to iron out details of the memorandum and a structure the task force has been referring to as a "chassis."

"We built this chassis that allowed for local autonomy and yet co-optive decision-making," Brodhead explained.

He said future partners could include Fort Saskatchewan, Devon, Leduc and Strathcona County.

"We'll open the door and say, 'Hey, come on in,' " he said.

April Hudson

About the Author: April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette
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