The Transportation and Public Works Committee will be discussing the issue of transit service to Edmonton International Airport (EIA) today. Let me start by saying that I would certainly take a bus to the airport from Century Park if it existed, and that I think public transit to the airport is extremely important. Or as Councillor Don Iveson said so well:
This is one of those litmus tests of whether we’re a city or a town.
I’d like us to be a city.
There are two key reports that are relevant here. The first was written by the Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board (ETSAB), and it recommends that an experimental ETS bus service operate from Century Park to EIA. You no doubt heard about it in the news. The second was written by the Transportation Department, and it recommends that the City of Edmonton not proceed unilaterally with operating service to the airport.
As part of its report, ETSAB did a survey of about 600 passengers in October 2009 and found the following:
The highlight result is that a remarkable 53% of passenger respondents said they are likely or very likely to use airport transit to and from Century Park. Only 1 in 4 of these EIA passengers (13% of all passengers) need actually follow through with their indicated likely usage, and the service will be profitable. Only 1 in 8 of these supporters (7% of all passengers) need follow through for 50% cost recovery level to be achieved.
The accuracy of that survey was not demonstrated, and the Transportation Department’s report rightly pointed that out.
Transportation’s report also makes note of the Capital Region Board’s role in all of this, and I agree it makes sense for surrounding communities to take part. That said, I think Edmonton should be proactive about transit service to the airport.
Beyond that, the report from Transportation just doesn’t add up. Here are the questions I have about it:
- Why is there such a focus on 100% cost recovery, when the rest of ETS operates at about 45%? Only “special event service” and charters are subject to 100% cost recovery, and even with planned fare increases to $3 by 2013, cost recovery is only expected to rise to about 54% (see Transit System Fare Policy C451D for more info)
- Why are three new buses required and why would the total cost to acquire them be “at least $1.5 million”? First of all, based on 2008 data (large PDF), the City has no lack of spare buses. With a fleet size of 821 40’ diesels, there are at least 146 spare buses available at any given time, 19 of which are reserved for emergency deployment. So wouldn’t it be cheaper to find a way to reduce the number held for maintenance from 127 to 124? And even if we did want new buses, where does the $1.5 million figure come from? Based on the May 2008 report (large PDF) that discussed trolley buses, the cost for a diesel bus in 2010 was expected to be $425,000 whereas the cost for a hybrid was expected to be $650,000.
- Of course, the type of bus chosen has an impact on operating costs, which for some reason are $254,000 more in the City report than in the ETSAB report (even though ETSAB used a figure provided by ETS). That same report on trolley buses found that maintenance costs for the hybrid and diesel buses are similar, but that the hybrids use 15% to 20% less fuel.
And perhaps most importantly, why do both reports focus on a ticket price of just $2.50? Especially considering adult fares are up to $2.75 now. I’d be willing to bet that most people who’d use the service would be willing to pay more. I don’t think $5 or perhaps even $10 is out of the question.
And then, on top of all of that, there’s this article in the Edmonton Sun:
The city’s transportation department is proposing to build a dedicated bus lane along the future LRT corridor from city boundaries to the Edmonton International Airport.
So they’re saying bus service to the airport is too expensive, but they want to build an expensive dedicated bus lane for bus service we don’t even offer? To be fair, this was in response to what could be done to move people were the City successful in its bid for EXPO 2017. Still, Transportation boss Bob Boutilier was quoted as saying:
“There are opportunities to build up that ridership now. The cost of building a bus way is a lot less than an LRT route but people will see the value as ridership crawls up and progresses to a higher capacity.”
I can think of a way to build up ridership right now – start offering bus service to EIA from Century Park!