Whenever I visit a major city—whether it’s Montreal, London, or my hometown of Chengdu, China—I notice the transit system. A robust, well-connected transit system always stands out because it makes such a big difference to your quality of life.
Unfortunately, it feels like when it comes to public transit, Edmonton is always playing catch-up. We build houses and then we try to add a bus route or build an LRT line after the fact.
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But it doesn’t have to be this way anymore. The City is currently reviewing its transit strategy, which will be presented to City Council this spring. I hope that their conclusions will reflect the concerns and priorities that I have heard from Ward 11 residents.
My biggest concerns are accessibility and affordability. I think our transit system is too expensive for both the users and the City, which subsidizes 55% of the system. We need to lower the fare costs to a rate that will make transit more attractive than parking fees and mileage. More affordable fares will make taking the bus or the train a more appealing option, and make sure that those who need it most can get where they need to go.
Fare prices and ridership go hand in hand. The current transit strategy review will change bus routes and frequency in an effort to improve service and encourage greater transit use (see current changes here). If these changes are successful in increasing ridership and improving service efficiency, they will allow us to look at lowering transit fares without the City having to necessarily incur additional expenses. In the long term, we need to commit to approaches such as transit-oriented development to increase density near transit hubs, which will in turn increase ridership.
Speaking of transit-oriented development, I’m really excited about the Valley Line LRT coming through Ward 11. I think it will rejuvenate some of our neighbourhoods, and it opens up a lot of potential for businesses and residential areas. I believe it will connect the northern and southern sections of Ward 11 in a meaningful way, giving people - not only transit riders but also people with bicycles - more options in transportation. The LRT can therefore give us a chance to connect active transportation, like cycling, to public transportation. One policy we can re-consider is the one that bans commuters from taking their bikes on the LRT during rush hour. Reviewing this policy can give people more options for how to navigate their neighbourhoods, and it also eases the burden on limited park-and-ride spaces.
We need to take an inclusive approach to the ways people travel around our city. In order to make taking transit more appealing to Edmontonians from all walks of life, we need to invest in reliable and efficient service, clean and inviting buses and trains, and affordable fare options.