What might it look like if the Edmonton area was all connected by one public transit system?
We can predict a few things right off the bat: you might see more people hopping on buses, less money spent per municipality on transit, and more efficient bus routes around the region.
St. Albert has been at the forefront of these discussions since 2016, when city council appointed two councillors to a Regional Commuter Service Task Force with the ultimate goal of creating a standalone joint service with Edmonton.
In 2017, the task force led to the establishment of the Regional Transit Services Commission, which opened up the option for other municipalities to sign on.
And sign on they did. Right now, the commission has 13 Edmonton-area municipalities on board, and just released a major report on creating a seamless transit system between them. It's an interesting proposal that purports to save the region $3.4 million annually by the time the commission is fully operational, sorely-needed money as municipalities grapple with tight budgets. It could also help rid St. Albertans of one collective sore spot – if you've lived in this city long enough, you've no doubt heard the complaints from residents who see city buses cruising around with no passengers, or who tried to use transit only to find themselves in for an hour-long ride.
The report is the culmination of two years of effort by transit experts, including St. Albert's own Coun. Wes Brodhead, and paints a vision of a future where people across the Capital Region can move between municipalities with ease. It also comes at a time when St. Albert's local transit system is on the cusp of its own overhaul with the Campbell Road Park and Ride Transit Centre set for completion in September.
As with any major overhaul, there are unknowns ahead that could lead to troubled waters. For instance, Edmonton would not have its entire transit system run through the commission until after five years, which has led Coun. Sheena Hughes to worry about cost increases to other municipalities when the five-year mark passes and Edmonton is fully integrated. Coun. Ken MacKay is also concerned about what will happen after Edmonton joins, and indicated to the Gazette he's watching to see if other municipalities support the proposal.
While potential cost increases are a concern, the team behind the report came up with a governance structure that includes elected representatives from each participating municipality, providing a level of protection against one municipality trying to call the shots. According to Mayor Cathy Heron, each municipality is financially responsible for their own local service.The need for regional collaboration increases as municipal governments are being squeezed by a lack of funding. We can achieve more, for less, by working together.