On campaign nomination day, I took public transit from Ward 12 to City Hall to file my nomination papers. It took a couple of buses and close to an hour to make a trip that took other volunteers 15 minutes by car. Lengthy rides and lots of transfers are the reality for many Ward 12 residents who rely on public transit to get around.
Who takes transit? Many of those relying on transit are newcomers to the city, low-income populations, women, and children. These vulnerable populations spend several hours on the bus each day, just to get to their place of employment. I am the candidate that will look out for those populations, and I will push to make public transit better for everyone.
I’ve been asking myself another question lately: who doesn’t take public transit, and why? Many of us would like to take transit, but we choose not to. That’s because right now, transit quality and access in Ward 12 isn’t great. What can we do to encourage people to take buses and the LRT? What is the best way forward?
The LRT needed to be here yesterday. This is a key priority for me. The Metro LRT line was delayed three times, and even now it’s not fully operational – we cannot accept delays like this with the Valley Line. The $1.8 billion dedicated to building the Valley Line from the southeast to downtown is the largest single infrastructure project in Edmonton’s history, and it requires sound management to ensure the project is completed on budget and on time. In short: we need to do this right, and we need to do this now.
However, the LRT is only one component of a successful public transit system. People need to be able to choose between different transit options for their different needs, and the LRT needs to be built into a strong network of local buses to get people to their destination, quickly. We need to invest in bus rapid transit and LRT, while ensuring that our transit system has appropriate connections to make sure people can get where they need to go.
Time spent on public transit needs to be productive. Imagine if all of us could spend our commutes responding to emails and working on projects, rather than fighting with traffic! Currently, only 6 LRT stations have access to wifi. What if you could access wifi wherever you were in the public transit system: on the LRT, on a bus, or waiting at an LRT station or transit centre? This is the kind of initiative that makes transit more attractive than driving, and it’s been successfully piloted on buses and at transit stations in cities like Vancouver and Toronto.
Finally, wifi service and bus networks — though important — mean little when public transit is unaffordable and inaccessible. We know that transit is primarily used by already-vulnerable populations. With an estimated 100,000 Edmontonians falling underneath the low-income cutoff, access programs are crucial. No one should be left out in the cold if they are unable to afford a monthly bus pass. This fall, City Council talked about implementing a low income transit pass, which would cost $35 rather than the usual $89. We need to make sure this program is fully funded so that everyone who needs access to this vital public service has it.
Of course, the City is not solely responsible for its public transit system. Transit is an issue that cuts across all levels of government, from the city and the province all the way to Ottawa. For example, the Government of Alberta has contributed hugely to public transit development. Over $600 million was committed under the province’s GreenTrip program as a mix of grants and loans to the Valley LRT line. That program has now expired, and we need to push the new provincial government to invest in new provisions for such grants.
Ward 12 has a strong ally with the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi now serving as federal minister of infrastructure and communities, but the ward also needs an advocate to build relationships and advocate for local issues to the provincial and federal governments. I have the education, experience, and consensus building skills to bring everyone to the table for these discussions.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed my hour-long commute to City Hall. With friendly bus drivers and polite fellow commuters, that was bound to happen. But residents of Ward 12 deserve better public transit options than the ones they have right now, and I am committed to ensuring our transit system meets the diverse needs of our fast-growing city.