Start offering bus service to EIA from Century Park!

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!

21 thoughts on “Start offering bus service to EIA from Century Park!

  1. I’d really like to see this happen… paying $50+ every time I want to get to the airport is a total pain, though it may be worth the price for me if the public transportation only goes from the southside. Getting from Sherwood Park to Century Park and then taking another bus to the airport would likely take way too long… but whatever, it’s a step in the right direction.

    I’d love to see the LRT extended to the airport, actually. Yes, it’d be a gargantuan undertaking, but it would potentially mean that people could get to the airport from a lot more places without a bunch of transfers.

    I will agree that $2.50 seems low; in cities like Lyon, where they have a similar situation of an airport rather far outside of the city, it’s an 8-Euro bus ride, though the bus drives to various parts of the city. It’s a reasonable price, and is a viable alternative to taking a cab.

  2. Ken – absolutely! Connected up to the LRT would be a big win, very convenient. And I disagree – we don’t have “crappy city buses”. Almost the entire fleet is new. Much nicer than some other cities.

  3. One reason for three new buses: I don’t think standard city buses would be suitable for airport duty without modification. Luggage racks of some kind would need to be fitted at the very least. New types of buses would probably be ideal – something along the lines of a coach, similar to what Strathcona County uses. Maybe that explains the need for new buses?

  4. Other big cities connect buses to the airport with subway/LRT seamlessly, without an additional charge. See Toronto and New York (La Guardia). Seattle is rapid bus transit all the way downtown, regular fare. Not sure why Edmonton, yet again, needs to discourage use by charging more.

  5. From what I remember, the Century Park to EIA route would be considered a different fare zone, and so fares paid to get to Century Park would not be transferable. Presumably most users of the Century Park to EIA route would actually be paying 2 ETS fares – one to get to Century Park, and another to get to EIA. Shouldn’t they take that into consideration for overall cost recovery? (Although I suppose some people would have transit passes already…)

  6. I’d be willing to pay $5 for it, but $10 would be too much. For the difficulty of carrying luggage and needing to connect with the LRT, I don’t think it’d be the right level of service to be priced so similarly to the shuttle.

  7. I can’t fathom why we don’t have bus service to and from EIA already. This is a basic public service for Edmonton’s gateway to the world. LRT service would be great but doesn’t seem feasible without huge help from the province.

    Bus service should not be higher than regular fare in Edmonton and I might go as far as to say it should be free. The more we can encourage people to travel to and from our city, the larger the economic benefit to the Edmonton area.

    The city could also look at building a car rental hub and lease the space at Century Park to subsidize the cost of running bus service to EIA.

  8. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a higher fare to the airport. Longer distance, different type of service. $10.00 might be a bit rich, but $5-$7.50 sounds reasonable, in addition to the standard ETS Fare to get to Century Park. There’s also the issue of long-term park and ride, which I assume CP isn’t set up for.

  9. @Mike For existing bus-pass holders, an extra fee would be discouraging. I think charging riders with no pass a rate of $5 is reasonable and also may encourage people to buy monthly passes.

    I went to the open house for the South LRT extension proposal (to Ellerslie Road) and the city reps were nice and answered lots of my questions, however, it was made pretty clear that the LRT won’t be expanding south anytime soon (10+ years at least). I don’t think the city has any choice but to make a Century Park to EIA route work. If CP isn’t setup for that currently, the city needs to change that.

  10. In Ottawa, they have dedicated bus lanes all through the city, and service to the airport is just an extension of that. There are no special buses for airport traffic, because those buses run ALL DAY LONG. If I remember correctly, it costs no more to ride the bus to the airport than it does to ride anywhere else in the city. The buses are also no different than regular Ottawa transit buses. it functions really well there, and there is no reason it can’t do that here.

    There’s also no reason for our bus fares to go up again. The reason no one (relatively speaking) rides the bus is that our bus routes could have been more adequately designed by a 5 year old. Outside of rush hour, busing around the city is inconvenient at best, and downright frustrating most of the time.

    I’m as guilty as the next person for not using transit, but why would I take a 45 minutes bus ride, plus 30 minutes of walking to work when I can drive there in less than 20 minutes in heavy traffic?

    If there was transit to EIA, I KNOW I’d use it, as long as the fare was the same as taking ETS in the city. If it costs more, I’d rather get a ride.

  11. Keep up the pressure, Mack! It’s simply ridiculous not to have scheduled ETS bus service from Century Park LRT to the airport. As Iveson says, are we a town or a city?

  12. I’d certainly pay $5-$10 to ride a modified or coach bus from Century Park to the EIA.

    AND I would still be willing to pay for my monthly pass.

    The thing to consider regarding an “extra” fare is that people who don’t live in Edmonton are going to be riding that airport bus. And compared to a much more expensive cab ride, or a shuttle that no longer has a regular route through Edmonton’s hotels it’s a great feature.

    Plus, ETS could be selling weekly passes at the EIA and Century Park to those out-of-towners, getting them on public transit, right as they get off the plane.

    On the topic of cost-recovery, it might be personal point of contention, I don’t see the City recovering road costs from drivers (ie: tolls), so this always comes across like a bit of a red herring argument regarding ETS.

  13. I suspect this ‘100% cost recovery’ is because ETS doesn’t see this as an Edmonton service, but one that is for outside the city limits. The airport is a special case, and should be treated as if it’s part of this city – especially with plans in place to shut down the Muni.

    Consider all the jobs that are at the airport, and that many don’t apply for because of the difficulty of getting transport to them. Transport to EIA = workers from there living here = more taxes for the city.

    We concentrate so much on having a bus less than 5 blocks from anyone’s front door, that we miss the bigger items like service to major destinations.

  14. The Livery will fight tooth and nail to prevent EIA service. Airport Taxi has the carrying rights for the EIA and I assume that because EIA is outside of City Limits that the City has no jurisdiction and needs to be an approved carrier to run a bus out there. Yellow owned Sky Shuttle, Yellow Cab, Co-op and Capital Taxi will all fight that move as well – for as many people who don’t want to pay $50 to get to the EIA and back there are as many Cab Drivers, Owners, and Operators who want to make $50 taking you to the EIA and back.

  15. This might be a comment well past it’s prime time, but Leduc is starting a bus service at the end of August that connects Leduc and Century Park, and it runs through the airport. It’s called the C-Line. There isn’t much info yet, and it looks like it may be a limited schedule (perhaps designed for commuters who live or work in Edmonton, Leduc, Nisku and the airport, but it’s well past due – like this comment) http://www.leduc.ca

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