Edmonton needs to improve safety, service, and cleanliness on transit, advisory board says

Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board says it's time to make changes to service.  (Phil LaPlante/CBC - image credit)
Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board says it's time to make changes to service. (Phil LaPlante/CBC - image credit)

A group of volunteers believes Edmonton can up its transit game in three areas: Safety, cleanliness and service.

The Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board said with substance abuse issues, homelessness, and violence in the city, some people aren't comfortable taking public transit.

The group presented a report called Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board: Ridership Improvement Strategies, to city council's urban planning committee on Tuesday.

"We came to the conclusion that we're actually a city in crisis," Joshua Jackman, a member of ETSAB, told the committee.

The board's conclusions are based in part on its analysis of Edmonton Transit Service satisfaction surveys from 2017 to 2022.

"The time to act is now," Jackman told the committee. "If we don't act right now we really believe that lives are going to be affected and in the worst way."

To address safety and security, the board recommends the city form an advisory board or council with a diverse group of stakeholders collaborating on policies and bylaws.

To clean up transit spaces, it recommends the city hire a designated cleaning team and director of cleaning.

To improve service, ETSAB suggests the city be more consistent, pin down specific routes, listen to feedback, and create dedicated bus lanes.

Coun. Tim Cartmell said calling it a 'crisis' was a rhetorical perspective, focusing only on negatives while the city is taking steps to improve public transit.

"No doubt there are some negative aspects to our transit system, that's absolutely true," Cartmell told reporters outside the committee. "There's also some positive pieces as well."

ETSAB applauded the city for its willingness to listen and its ongoing efforts to make improvements. Survey respondents also had positive feedback, such as ETS operators generally driving safely.

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Administration said it reviewed ETSAB's recommendations and noted that the city has invested in cleaning, safety and service in the past couple of years.

"There are opportunities to improve," said Carrie Hotton-MacDonald, manager of ETS. "Where possible we will take the recommendations into consideration and weave it into how we do our work."

Hotton-MacDonald they've been doing enhanced cleaning since 2020, on vehicles, LRT stations, bus stops and transit centres.

For safety and security, she noted the city has forged partnerships with police and the Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society in creating community outreach transit teams.

In late November, council approved changes to its budget, reallocating $5.26 million from 2024 to 2026 to improve transit.

"We're really, really excited about service improvements we've been making and what will come, such as recent decisions to improve bus service levels," said Hotton-MacDonald.

Starting in February, the city is adding about 70,000 annual hours to the bus service, including new routes and more peak and off-peak frequency.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he believes better public transit can help attract new riders, which in turn, can make transit safer and help the economy.

"It allows people to access better jobs, access better educational opportunities," Sohi said during the meeting. "More eyes on the streets, more people walking to the bus stops makes our neighbourhoods safer."

Council also approved money to fund a satellite garage where it will store 20 new diesel buses, starting in 2025.

The recently approved budget adjustments mean a property tax hike of 6.6 per cent, up from about 5.0 per cent council had approved last December.