The City of Edmonton is on the hunt for help to run a direct bus service between the Edmonton International Airport and downtown.
Edmonton Transit Service estimated it would cost the city $2.6 million a year to run a direct bus route starting in 2024, as shown in its proposed operating budget presented to council last fall.
City council decided at the end of the four-year budget deliberations in December to not to fund the new service.
Coun. Anne Stevenson said with a nearly 5 per cent property tax increase attached to the 2023 operating budget already, it was unlikely council would agree to pay for the new route.
But Stevenson suggested the could city look at cost-sharing scenarios and consult downtown businesses, Explore Edmonton and the EIA.
"The intent is to look at providing this service, but looking that the full cost of it doesn't fall on to the City of Edmonton alone," Stevenson said in an interview this week.
Stevenson said direct transit from the airport to downtown would generate economic development.
"For me, this is a small investment that not only improves ETS service — so that helps all Edmontonians and all visitors— but it has a real opportunity to help attract more conferences, more events to our city."
Such events have a positive ripple effect for local small businesses like restaurants, cafés and hotels, she said.
Council agreed to Stevenson's idea last month, and asked administration to report back with the options this fall.
Dan St. Pierre, Explore Edmonton's director of strategic communications and partnerships, says convenient and cost-effective transportation from the airport to downtown would help attract visitors, business conferences, sports and cultural events.
"We fully support the City of Edmonton implementing such a service," St. Pierre said in an email Wednesday.
"Managing public transit is not in our mandate but we're happy to continue discussions with the key partners to determine how we can be helpful within the scope of our mandate."
Core riders will be workers, expert says
David Cooper, a transit and transportation consultant with Leading Mobility Consulting, said the focus of a new direct route should be people working at the airport or the nearby outlet mall.
"There's this myth that building airport transit will get the business traveller, will get the occasional traveller — most people are not flying in and out of Edmonton International Airport on a regular basis."
Cooper said business travellers are less likely to take public transit, in part because they can usually expense their taxi or Uber trips.
"Your core ridership is going to be workers. It's not going to be travelers coming in on occasional trips," Cooper said. "It's a nice-to-have for travelers. It's a must-have for workers."
The only public transit option out of the EIA is the 747 bus that starts and ends at the Century Park LRT station.
It runs every half hour during peak times but once an hour for most of the day.
The first bus leaves Century Park at 4:10 in the morning and makes its last stop at the station at 12:38 a.m.
The 747 costs $5 one way and riders can't use regular Edmonton Transit Service transfers.
Airport passes are $90 a month but regular ETS monthly passes are not accepted, nor are Leduc Transit monthly bus passes.
According to the city's open data portal, the 747 was boarded on average 684 times and ran 54 times a day between September and December 2022.
In comparison, one of the city's most popular and used routes, number 8 from the University of Alberta to Abbotsfield, was boarded on average more than 10,000 times and ran 190 times a day.
The proposed direct route would provide express service with two to four stops at key destinations along Gateway Boulevard /Calgary Trail and stops downtown serving several hotels and major destinations.
The bus would run every 30 minutes, using 18 buses, the city's budget report says.