What good are (bike) plans without implementation?

Bike lanes have been in the news again, largely thanks to Mayor Mandel referring to the plans as a “nightmare” on Wednesday. It’s pretty clear that our poor public consultation practices are part of the problem here, but there’s another issue at play. As a city we’re good at talking the talk, but we too often fail at walking the walk.

From The Way Ahead:

In shifting Edmonton’s transportation modes the City recognizes the importance of mobility shifts to contribute to the achievement of other related goals. To do so suggests the need to transform the mix of transport modes, with emphasis on road use for goods movement and transiting people and transit use for moving people.

From The Way We Move’s Strategic Goals:

Public transportation and active transportation are the preferred choice for more people, making it possible for the transportation system to move more people more efficiently in fewer vehicles.

From The Way We Move’s Implementation Plan:

Active transportation includes any form of human-powered transportation, the most common modes being walking and biking. A key direction of The Way We Move is to develop an integrated and sustainable transportation system in Edmonton to enable citizens to shift to these modes.

And then of course there is the Active Transportation Policy which declares, “the City of Edmonton strives to be pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly.”

Our plans and goals and policies all seem to support taking steps to make cycling in Edmonton more common. We know that doing so will help to reduce traffic congestion, preserve our road infrastructure, protect the environment, and make us healthier. Our goal of building 500 km of on-street cycling facilities in the next 10 to 20 years is achievable, and we can be confident it’ll help shift our transportation modes because just as you get more drivers when you add more roads, research suggests you get more cyclists if you add more bike lanes (pdf).

So why does it seem so difficult to make any actual progress?

Isaak Kornelsen Memorial Ride - August 31, 2012

When the 2012-2014 Capital Budget was being discussed, Active Transportation nearly missed out on funding. After lots of public feedback and discussion, Council amended the budget and did include $20 million. Now we get around to actually spending some of that money on cycling – $2 million or less this year – and we once again seem to be forced into the position of having to fight to move things forward. One step forward, two steps backward.

Without question the way the City does public consultation contributed to this mess – there’s a lot of room for improvement. But “poor public consultation” is also a convenient scapegoat for politicians and citizens opposed to the plans. There’s no conspiracy here. The notion of adding bike lanes to our streets didn’t suddenly appear one day out of thin air. These plans have been in the works for years.

All we need to do now is walk the walk.

You can learn more about Cycling in Edmonton here, and note the City is running a survey on the 2013 Bike Routes until February 27.

Two other thoughts:

  • Why wasn’t there any outrage about the loss of parking when the bike parking corrals were put in place over the summer? Was it just because they were temporary?
  • Am I the only one annoyed that we’re spending 10 to 30 times more on a “mechanized access” project for the River Valley that has no clear plan than we are on bike lanes?

How I travelled in 2012

Lattes weren’t the only thing I decided to track in 2012! I also decided to track how I much I travelled over the course of the year. One reason I wanted to do so was simply for my own knowledge! I think if you really want to change something, you need to first measure it. I figured if I could compare how often I drive with how often I choose other methods, I might be more inclined to change my behavior. Another reason was to hopefully inspire others to look at their own habits.

111 Street Pedway
Cars, buses, LRT, and good old fashioned walking! Photo by Darren.

I used a few tools to track this information. First, my Fitbit, which tracks how many steps I take each day. Second, I took advantage of the data I have been tracking for years about my driving habits. And finally, I recorded everything else in DAYTUM. To get distances, I would use Google Maps or this handy calculator. I use TripIt for all my out-of-town trips, so that’s where I got the flight distances.

Here’s what the overall distance data looks like:

Airplane 34642.0
Bicycle 16.4
Bus 392.4
Ferry 5.7
LRT 207.5
Shuttle 55.4
Streetcar 17.1
Subway 1.0
Tube 110.9
Vehicle 6951.1
Walking 2043.1

No surprise there – I travelled further by airplane than any other mode of transportation. I flew to Toronto, Portland, Kamloops, London, Dublin, and Miami in 2012.

What’s more interesting is comparing how I got around Edmonton and the other cities I visited:

I suppose including the steps distance in that is a bit misleading, because walking around the house or office is included in that total, but there’s no easy way to break it out. Regardless, I think that chart more or less illustrates how I get around Edmonton. If a destination is in walking distance (about 20 minutes or so), I’ll generally walk. If it is far away, I’ll probably drive. For everything in between, I try to take transit.

If I could do it again, I would have tracked the # of trips in addition to distance (I have started doing that for 2013). I didn’t track how many times I used the car to get around Edmonton, for instance. I did track bus & LRT trips though, because I had to enter all that data into DAYTUM. In total in 2012, I made 141 trips using public transit:

Tracking the amount I walk has absolutely been motivating. There were lots of times that I tried to walk a bit more, just to get over 10,000 or whatever milestone I was close to. According to my Fitbit, I did 2,835,849 steps in 2012, covering a total distance of 2043.1 KM. That works out to an average of 7749 steps and 5.6 KM per day. Here’s what it looks like on a chart:

I did more than 30,000 steps on June 9 (which was the day of Al Fresco) and more than 25,000 once more on August 26 (which was the tour of the Northeast farms and Blink). I did more than 20,000 steps five times and more than 10,000 steps seventy-four times. My laziest day was Boxing Day when I did just 1860 steps (clearly, we stayed home).

Portland September 2012

Recording all of this data has definitely caused me to think about my habits more, and my lack of cycling stands out. If I had a bicycle, I could probably replace a number of the car trips that are either too far for walking or too inconvenient to wait for the bus. I really loved cycling when we were in Portland, so I think I will definitely try to do more of it here in Edmonton this year!

The story of how I fell out of love with driving

When I got my current car, a 2005 Honda Civic, my Dad bought me a gas mileage book and told me to record each and every time I filled up. I have been diligently recording the date, odometer reading, number of litres, gas price per litre, and total cost of each fillup ever since. I also record notes on some fillups, such as out-of-town trips. A couple of weeks ago, inspired by Nora Young’s trip to Edmonton to discuss self-tracking, I finally decided to digitize the records. It occurred to me that this was the first bit of self-tracking I ever did. I know that I drive far less today than I did when I got the car, and I wanted to be able to visualize that. You can see the charts below, but to really understand them, I need to share a bit of history with you first.

The moment I turned 14, I was ready to get my learner’s permit. Like most guys my age I desperately wanted to drive, even if I needed to have an adult with me. I got the study guide, but didn’t spend too much time with it. As a result, when I went to write the test, I failed by one question (it was something to do with uncontrolled railway crossings if I remember correctly). I made sure to not let that happen again, and the second time I passed with no problems. I was living with my Grandma at the time, and she was great about letting me drive. Whenever we went to the grocery store or if she was dropping me off somewhere, she’d happily take the passenger seat.

I took lessons from AMA to learn how to drive a manual transmission, and took the driver’s test soon after I turned 16. With only a few minor hiccups I passed, and was free to drive on my own (fortunately I got in just before the GDL program took effect, so I had no limitations). When I was in high school, I drove a lot. I thought nothing of crossing the city to get somewhere or to drive a friend home. Gas prices were quite a bit lower at the time than they are today, but looking back it still seems incredibly wasteful how much I would drive.

When I started attending the University of Alberta, I would frequently drive. Sometimes I’d park at campus, other times I would get a ride with a friend, but most times I would park at the Stadium LRT Station and take the train the rest of the way (also handy because my office was downtown). I would sometimes take the bus, but I never made that a habit.

Shortly after I graduated in the spring of 2007, I started working at Questionmark. Our office was located near The Brick warehouse in the northwest part of the city, and I was still living with my Grandma in the southeast. That meant driving about 60 kilometers every day, and it meant driving the very busy Whitemud. I looked at taking the bus, but it would have taken about 45 minutes and required a transfer.

In May 2008, I moved into an apartment in Oliver with my sister. That cut the distance to work significantly, though I still drove every day. Roughly a year later, with our local team growing at Questionmark, we decided to move the office downtown to the Empire Building. I started taking the bus to and from work every day, because it was just a short trip (about a 15 minute ride) and I didn’t want to pay for parking.

In the summer of 2010, Sharon and I moved into our current place on 104 Street. I’m now just a short walk away from the office (Google estimates 9 minutes), which means I walk to and from work every day. As we have written before, I absolutely love it.

To recap quickly:

  • June 2005 to July 2007: I drove pretty much everywhere.
  • July 2007 to May 2008: I drove across the city to get to work every day. I regularly drove other places.
  • May 2008 to May 2009: I still drove to work every day, but the distance is much shorter.
  • May 2009 to July 2010: I took the bus to work, and drove only on evenings and weekends.
  • July 2010 to present: I walk to work, and avoid driving whenever possible.

Here’s what that behavior looks like on a graph:

distance by year

I think the four big shifts are pretty evident in that graph. Slowly but surely, I have been reducing any dependence on my car to get around.

Out of interest, here’s what that behavior cost me at the pump:

spend by year

I wish I had kept records prior to 2005, because I know the price of gas was quite a bit less when I first started driving.

What’s not captured in this data is how my attitude toward driving has changed over the years. It sounds counterintuitive, but the less time I spent behind the wheel the less I enjoyed it. I remember arguing with Sharon back in my university days about how terrible our public transit system was (she has always been a regular user). I loved driving and wanted nothing to do with the bus. Today we use the car maybe once a week, for trips to Superstore, to visit family, or to get out of town, and I regularly complain if I need to drive for pretty much any other reason. I would much rather walk or take the bus. I now find driving quite stressful! I’m sure that the shift from driving to walking has positively impacted my health. It has no doubt lowered my carbon footprint by quite a bit as well.

Also missing from the above charts are the other changes that have made my move away from the car possible. Without question, being able to use Google Maps to lookup bus routes has been hugely beneficial. Text messaging at bus stops has also made the experience of using the bus much more positive. My experience traveling in other cities has no doubt had a big impact on me as well. The are lots of things to consider.

As much as I would like to go car-free, it’s just not a very realistic option in Edmonton at the moment. I’m hopeful that will change however, and that our next car will be our last (though I recognize that other life changes may significantly affect that plan).

In an effort to better understand my behavior and potentially change it, I have been tracking my travel habits every day this year. In January, I’ll be able to show you a full year of data, including how often and how far I traveled by foot, bicycle, automobile, bus, train, plane, etc. Stay tuned!

The Downtown LRT Connector should run along 102 Avenue

Today City Council is scheduled to vote on the recommendation from the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee to shift the route of the Downtown LRT Connector from 102 Avenue up to 102A/103 Avenue. I’m opposed to this change for a variety of reasons. Here’s what the Journal’s Editorial Board wrote on February 2:

Responsive government is indeed a positive thing, but Edmonton’s city council has done far too much listening at the expense of decisive action on the LRT file. Councillors approved the current east/west downtown leg along 102nd Avenue in 2010 – yes, two years ago – but on Tuesday the smaller transportation committee voted to recommend a route shift and other changes that could increase the project’s cost by $115 million and delay construction by at least a year to entertain more discussion and allow for further planning.

We know that LRT is our top priority, we know that LRT is vital for our city’s future as an enabling technology for our urban centre, and we know it will only get more expensive to construct over time. Further delaying this important infrastructure is not the correct course of action.

I am certainly not a fan of the way the City does public involvement (though there have been some more positive signs lately) but they did do a lot of consultation on this project. It is disappointing to see that if one group screams loud enough, they can render the rest of the consultation process irrelevant. It sets a dangerous precedent for future LRT construction too.

downtown lrt connector

The route that Transportation officials recommended back in 2010 makes the most sense to me. Here are some of the reasons you can find in the report:

  • 102 Avenue is already more developed than 102A Avenue, which means ridership potential is greater along 102 Avenue.
  • Related to that – all of the destinations are along 102 Avenue! The City notes there are 10 activity centres along 102 versus just 3 along 102A. Churchill Square, the Stanley Milner Library, the Citadel, the Winspear Centre, City Centre, the YMCA, Norquest College, the City Market in the summer, the Edmonton Chinatown Multicultural Centre, etc., are all along 102 Avenue.
  • 102 Avenue is closer to Jasper Avenue, and therefore closer for riders to make connections to other routes. 102 Avenue can connect directly to Churchill Station. I also like that 102 Avenue is half-way between 104 Avenue and Jasper Avenue, which will aid connections to MacEwan, the Arena & Entertainment District, etc.
  • Any option other than 102 Avenue will require an amendment to the Transportation System Bylaw and an amendment to the Capital City Downtown Plan. This would further delay any construction on LRT.

There are three key reasons that Council should vote against changing the route from 102 Avenue:

  1. 102 Avenue is more developed, has more people living and working along it, supports connections to existing transit best, and supports the Capital City Downtown Plan best.
  2. The 102A/103 Avenue route would add significant cost and further delays to the construction of this route.
  3. Changing course now sets a dangerous precedent that could negatively impact further LRT construction.

I strongly urge City Council to vote against the recommendation to change the route from 102 Avenue to 102A/103 Avenue.

UPDATE: Well that was a quick meeting! Council voted to keep the route along 102 Avenue as originally proposed. Excellent news!

Leading the Way: 2011 Youth Summit on Sustainable Transportation

This weekend at the Lister Conference Centre on the University of Alberta campus, about 56 youth from across the prairies and territories are gathered to learn about and discuss public transit and sustainable transportation. Leading the Way is the first regional summit to take place in Canada, other chapters of the Canadian Urban Transit Association will follow suit with their own events later this year.

LTW Youth SummitLTW Youth Summit

The conference kicked off last night with opening remarks from Charles Stolte, Manager of Edmonton Transit and Chair of the Canadian Urban Transit Association. He welcomed everyone and shared a few anecdotes from his many years of transit experience. We also heard from Kevin Joll, Manager of Red Deer Transit. He talked about the organizations Vision 2040, an initiative to define the role of public transit in Canada for a 30-year time horizon. He shared this video with us:

Next up was our keynote speaker, Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson. He spoke about “making a difference” and shared some of his experiences with bringing the U-Pass to life. He had four main pieces of advice for delegates:

  • Make a strong argument.
  • Be patient.
  • Have fun.
  • Walk the talk.

He noted that it takes time for public transit projects to happen, so even if you make a strong argument you need to be patient. Having fun can help you be patient, and there’s no better way to destroy a strong argument than to not walk the talk!

LTW Youth Summit

His slides were fantastic, and contained lots of little nuggets:

  • “You come out ahead when you invest in public transit.”
  • If everyone around the world lived the way we do in Edmonton, we’d need about 4 planet Earths to sustain ourselves.
  • A bus with 12 people is a better investment than a Prius with 4 people. LRT, of course, is even better.

He closed with his popular video on transportation that uses Lego!

The rest of the evening was devoted to brainstorming on the six major questions posted to delegates. The questions align with Vision 2040, and by the end of the weekend each group is going to have a pitch ready to make in a Lion’s Lair competition. It should be interesting to see what everyone comes up with!

LTW Youth Summit

The conference runs all weekend, and includes tours of the D.L. MacDonald LRT Garage and the new LEED-certified Centennial Garage. There’s also going to be a dance party on a chartered LRT car! You can follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #LTWSummit. I’ll be posting photos of the event here.

Fun with Open Data and Excel: Edmonton’s Busiest Streets

Today the City of Edmonton added a new dataset to the open data catalogue – average daily street traffic volumes from 2004-2009. Here’s the description:

Include traffic counts obtained with automatic traffic recorders over the past six years. The volume shown is a total of all vehicles in both directions, over a 24 hour period, for a typical weekday in a year. Volumes shown as a dash "-" indicate no count was undertaken that year. Seasonal adjustments are made to reflect an average weekday during the year. An increase or decrease in volume does not necessarily indicate a trend for a given roadway. Road construction or the introduction of more advanced equipment in 2009 affect the traffic volume numbers.

I’d like to build something interesting with this data, perhaps as part of a future ShareEdmonton release. But to start, I decided to open the data up in Microsoft Excel, something I often do with new datasets. Here’s what I discovered.

First, a few summary points:

  • There are 1496 street locations in the dataset.
  • Of those, 823 were counted in 2009. The year with the most counted locations was 2006, at 1076. Just 32 locations were counted every year (2004-2009). There were 531 locations counted in three years or more.
  • One of the first things I noticed is that every count ends in zero. I know the description outlines that the data is an average, adjusted seasonally, and perhaps for other reasons, but I wonder how close to reality the numbers really are.

Looking at 2009 simply because it is the most recent, there’s a hint of a long tail for the counted locations:

Here are the 200 busiest locations in Edmonton according to the 2009 count:

To create that map, I used a free utility called Excel to KML. There are all kinds of useful free KML tools online!

Here are the top ten busiest locations in Edmonton, according to the 2009 count:

  1. Calgary Trail SW North of Gateway Park Road SW
  2. Capilano Bridge
  3. 178 Street South of 81 Avenue
  4. Highway 216 NE North of Sherwood Park Freeway NE
  5. Anthony Henday Drive North of  87 Avenue
  6. HIghway 216 NE North of Baseline Road NE
  7. Anthony Henday Drive West of Calgary Trail
  8. 170 Street North of  95 Avenue
  9. Groat Road North of Victoria Park Road
  10. Highway 216 NE North of Whitemud Drive NE

Some of those are expected, some perhaps not. I decided to look at locations that were counted in at least three different years. If you look at the average daily volumes for that subset, here are the top ten busiest locations in Edmonton:

  1. Quesnell Bridge
  2. Yellowhead Trail West of 231 Street
  3. Calgary Trail SW North of Gateway Park Road SW
  4. Capilano Bridge
  5. Whitemud Drive West of 149 Street
  6. Yellowhead Trail West of Fort Road
  7. Cloverbar Bridge
  8. Yellowhead Trail West of  97 Street
  9. Yellowhead Trail West of 107 Street
  10. Yellowhead Trail West of 127 Street

Plotting the top 25 on a map gives a better sense of the really busy roads – Yellowhead Trail and Whitemud Drive:

Interesting, isn’t it? Of course, it could get a lot more interesting with some mashups. I’d love to have collision data for the City of Edmonton, to see how closely the number of collisions is correlated with traffic volumes. That’s just one example.

Check out the new dataset in the open data catalogue. If you do something interesting with it, I’d love to hear about it!

Bringing Smart Bus technology to Edmonton

On Tuesday the Transportation & Public Works Committee will receive a report on Smart Bus technology. In short, Smart Bus technology is actually a collection of technologies that will help modernize Edmonton Transit’s entire fleet of nearly 1000 buses. It includes things like automated stop announcements, automated vehicle monitoring, and yes, GPS location services.

There are a number of reasons that this technology is becoming necessary. For instance, between 2000 and 2009:

  • Annual ridership increased from 43 million to 68 million (60% increase)
  • Annual service hours increased from 1.56 million to 2.08 million (30% increase)
  • Annual passenger concerns increased from 8,327 to 13,616 (60% increase)

During the same timeframe, the number of staff to manage service and concerns increased from 25 to 30, which is just a 20% increase. In other words, “staffing has not kept pace with the growth and complexity of the increased workload.” I would add that if we really want to shift Edmonton’s transportation modes, we need to ensure our transit system is modern and efficient.

That’s where Smart Bus technology comes in. The technologies include:

  • Automatic Vehicle Location
  • Computer-Aided Dispatch
  • On-board Mobile Data Terminals
  • Real-Time Passenger Information Systems
  • Automated Stop Announcements
  • Automated Vehicle Monitoring

What will those technologies do for the day-to-day transit rider? Automated Vehicle Location and Real-Time Passenger Information Systems means no more waiting outside when it is 30 degrees below zero for a bus that is running late – you’ll be able to see the real-time location of your bus using the web or a mobile device. Computer-Aided Dispatch and On-board Mobile Data Terminals means that three buses on your route will never be running together – they’ll be evenly spaced out and thus will stay closer to the schedule because ETS control will know where they are and can provide direction. Automated Vehicle Monitoring means fewer buses broken down on the road, and fewer spare buses sitting in the garage – it’ll help ETS monitor the health of its vehicles to ensure they stay on the roads.

The other technology, Automated Stop Announcements, is really what drove this report in the first place. In some jurisdictions, calling out stops has become law, and there have been fines handed out when drivers failed to call out stops. There is no such legislation here, at least not yet, but we shouldn’t have to wait for that to happen. Automated Stop Announcements is an important accessibility feature of modern transit systems, and helps to support Edmonton’s diverse community of transit riders.

The report has been written to highlight the direct benefits to Edmontonians, but there’s important benefits for ETS itself too. The fleet size for 2011 is 959 buses, and that number is not getting any smaller. It’s amazing how much is done manually at the moment, and how “in the dark” ETS control is most of the time. There is no live telemetry from buses right now, which means any information control does receive is via radio transmission. I have heard that even on a normal day, there are a couple thousand calls into control from drivers. Furthermore, bus maintenance is difficult at best right now. There is scheduled maintenance of course, oil changes, etc., but really until a bus breaks down and must be towed into the garage, ETS doesn’t know if something is wrong. And because of the size of the fleet, the garage is packed – buses are parked nose to tail. The automated vehicle monitoring would let ETS know if something was wrong on a bus currently on the roads, and would enable them to pull problem buses into a “trouble lane” when they come back into the garage.

In the implementation details, the report says that tapping into the City’s open data catalogue “could” be possible. I think that once we have GPS technology on the buses, making that information available to citizens is vitally important and should be considered a “must”. In other cities with the technology, coffee shops have mounted LCD screens that show when nearby buses have arrived (kind of like airport display screens). Citizens always know where the bus is simply by glancing at their mobile device. ETS cannot be expected to write all of that software – Edmontonians will, as long as the data is made available (likely as an API rather than in the catalogue, because the data is “live”).

According to the report, outfitting the entire fleet with all of this technology would cost $32.7 million, and would cost $4.3 million to operate each year. It would take between three and five years to roll out completely. A pilot has been proposed (for 50 buses covering 2 routes) which would cost $3.4 million and would likely start by September 2012. For budgetary purposes, a second option has been included, which is just the Automated Stop Announcements. That would cost $11.5 million to equip the entire fleet, and would cost $1.2 million  to operate each year. The corresponding pilot would cost $2 million.

City Council likes options, but they shouldn’t have one in this case. Going with just part of the technology doesn’t make sense. It’ll deliver only partial benefits today, and will cost much more in the future to add the other technologies (which we will have to do at some point). Furthermore, if the Smart Bus technologies are separated, that opens the door for multiple vendors and thus integration problems. I really hope Council recognizes the importance of having all of the Smart Bus technology together at once and doesn’t delay unnecessarily (though I do think it would be worthwhile to figure out if/how Smart Bus technology can be deployed alongside the proposed civic smart card).

I think $33 million to make Smart Bus technology happen across the entire ETS fleet is worth it. The notion of using commodity GPS systems (like cheap cell phones) is attractive, but probably unrealistic given the harsh environment of a bus (hardware needs to be hardened and you can’t be running out to replace components all the time) and other operating requirements. The suite of Smart Bus technologies will provide major benefits to both riders and to ETS itself. And to be frank, the proposed budget is a rounding error compared to the amount of money we plan to spend on LRT, and we need buses to efficiently feed our LRT system to really get the return on investment that is possible.

Let’s bring Smart Bus technology to Edmonton!

You can see the report and attachments here, and you can follow along on Tuesday here.

Edmontonians rank public transportation as the City’s top priority

If it were up to me, that would be the headline on the front of every newspaper and at the top of every news broadcast in Edmonton today. The result was buried in the middle of a report that goes to Council on Monday on the proposed downtown arena, but that makes it no less significant in my mind.

Edmontonians who participated in a statistically valid phone survey from December 20 to December 23 were asked what the key issues are that the City of Edmonton should address. Public transportation, and specifically LRT, came out on top.

The City is addressing this, of course, with an expansive plan to extend the LRT to all corners of the City. Shifting Edmonton’s Transportation Modes is also one of the goals in the City’s 10-year strategic plan, and public transportation is the key to achieving that. But we have to keep pushing. As the City’s Chief Economist John Rose said:

“[LRT is] the urban equivalent of an enabling technology – if you have it, you can do a lot of great things.”

Public transportation is costly – both to build and to operate. No question about that. But it’s worth it, and more importantly, Edmonton’s future success depends on it.

It’s important to remind ourselves, not to mention City Council, that improved public transportation is what Edmonton needs above all else.

Sign of progress

The new South LRT extension has been the hot topic at water coolers throughout the city this week:

Edmonton Sun

Edmonton Journal


When was the last time that so many Edmontonians were talking about the LRT? Nothing like a little controversy to bring a topic to the forefront. I’ve almost heard more people talking about the delays at 51 Avenue than about the downtown arena! And you know what they say, there’s no such thing as bad press…

Yes it sucks to wait at a traffic light. The City will get the issues sorted out though, I’m sure of that. In the meantime, we should capitalize on the discussions that are happening! Explain to Edmontonians that we’re forging ahead with new LRT extensions and that we’ll learn from this experience.

And wouldn’t you know it, since I started writing this post I received a notice that Bob Boutilier, GM Transportation at the City of Edmonton, will be addressing strategies and challenges associated with fast tracking the NAIT, southeast, and west LRT lines at a news conference tomorrow morning. Excellent!

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!