The City of Edmonton is not recommending changes to the heavily-criticized new bus network after its first update to council nine months after the launch.
More than 1,800 residents have provided feedback to the city on the route overhaul that launched last April, with the most common concern from 37 per cent of respondents being an increased walking distance to the nearest stop. But in an interim update to be presented to council’s executive committee next Wednesday, the city isn’t recommending any further changes as it continues to analyze the early data.
The transit service did make some scheduling adjustments to existing routes and added a shuttle on Stony Plain Road based on early feedback last year, but these changes weren’t brought forward to council for discussion or approval.
With council gearing up to approve the next four-year budget cycle this fall, Ward Anirniq Coun. Erin Rutherford said Thursday it’s clear adjustments need to be made and she would like to see them done in line with the budget to ensure the funding is there. Rutherford said she’s concerned about the large number of people taking issue with the walking distance and wants to see more accessible service to ensure it doesn’t deter riders from using transit.
“That’s something that is really on my radar from an accessibility perspective, from an increasing ridership perspective and I want to see more answers before 2023. I think there’s more changes that we need to make sooner rather than later,” she said in an interview with Postmedia. “I do worry that the distance people have to walk to stops, especially with any kind of mobility issues whatsoever, is making it even less accessible.”
One way to improve proximity to residents is through additional on-demand transit, Rutherford said, which doesn’t exist in any neighbourhoods in the ward she represents even though transit options are slim the further north you go. On-demand transit is available in more than 35 neighbourhoods across the city that have residences at least 600 metres from the nearest bus stop and a sufficient population to support the service.
In the update, Edmonton’s transit service said on-demand ridership has risen steadily since the launch and is currently averaging about 6,000 rides per week. A full review of the two-year pilot program will be presented to council in the fall.
An equity analysis of the city’s new bus network will be conducted this year with a plan to inform potential changes in 2023, but Rutherford said she wants to see that plan expedited so adjustments can be made sooner.
Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board chairwoman Lindsay Vanstone said she’s heard mixed feedback about the new routes and thinks the city needs to make adjustments in response to concerns to ensure riders are listened to.
“When an on-demand bus isn’t available during the late nights or early hours, especially on weekends, it can leave people who rely on that system stranded sometimes and that can start to diminish trust with ETS. So I really hope that trust and reliability of the service is something that can continue to be worked on,” she said.
Although transit ridership remains low compared to pre-pandemic levels, bus boarding levels are currently at the highest level since March 2020 and were showing a gradual increase before the rise of the Omicron variant.
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