Getting the message out: Edmonton to fix how it talks to transit users

A transformation of Edmonton Transit Service is underway, and along with new LRT lines and a revamped bus network riders are being promised clearer communication about schedules, delays and services.

The city is studying ways to improve how it tells people what's going on: from changes in schedules to alerting riders about transfer points, and more colourful imagery to catch people's attention.

Coun. Aaron Paquette said he has heard from the public that changes can't come soon enough. 

"We could be doing much, much better," Paquette said Friday. "Sometimes it's confusing." 

He said clearer signs and real-time information would help. 

"People can actually just take a look at a board: 'I need to get from here to here, how do I do it?' and it's laid out really quickly."

Council's urban planning committee is scheduled to review a set of recommendations made earlier this year by the Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board. 

Marc Lachance, manager of business strategy and planning for ETS, is part of the team responding to the recommendations. 

He said the city is working on enhancing digital platforms through Google, social media, the city's website and at physical locations. 

"When we're refurbishing or investing in infrastructure in different stations, we're looking at new digital platforms that we can install that will help improve communications with customers."

He said the city plans to make more use of digital media screens to publish alerts in real time. 

'It's a joke'

The Capital Line stopped running for several hours Friday after a power line went down overnight, and two trains were stopped on the tracks. 

The city sent out alerts on social media and on site, but some people on LRT platforms felt they were in the dark.

Cathy Lifeso, who commutes between Clareview and downtown, suggested the city needs a better system for notifying people of alternate bus routes. 

"If trains aren't running, it's confusing," Lifeso said. "All kinds of people are standing, waiting. And it's just a rumour, 'Oh, it's this spot, oh, it's that spot, or it's this spot.' 

Natasha Riebe/CBC

"So you just try and follow people and see if you can find it." 

Oleg Koulak finished a night shift as a nurse at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and was waiting for the LRT on Friday. When it arrived, it sat there for another 20 minutes. There were no announcements, he said.

"There is no communication," Koulak told CBC News. "It's ridiculous, it's a joke.

"When someone is coming and sees this Edmonton LRT — even people from Calgary — they're laughing."

Long overdue

Paquette noted options would include alerts sent to cellphones, and real-time updates on boards so people know what's going on and what alternative routes are available.

"I, for one, think that it's long, long overdue," he said. "There are other municipalities that have far outpaced us in the way they communicate to riders."

Lachance said the report highlights new and emerging technologies used in other municipalities.

The focus will largely be on communicating changes when the smart-fare system is complete and the city's bus overhaul goes into place in 2020.

Paquette said he hopes the committee will give serious consideration to the recommendations in the advisory board report at a meeting Sept. 3. He would like to see the changes implemented well before the smart fares and revamped bus network are in place.