3 Ways to Shrink Our Transportation Budget

3 Ways to Shrink Our Transportation Budget

To summarize:

I want to hold council to account when it comes to the costs of Edmonton’s transportation, the largest budget item for our city. That means creating better systems to follow how fare money is spent, to expand ridership so we hit our goals, and to create reliable systems of revenue beyond fares. 

Over the last several years, it feels like we’ve put an expectation on Edmontonians to rely on public transit. There are a number of benefits: lower carbon footprint, avoiding the hassle of paying for parking (or spending twenty minutes walking from that one free-parking spot you know downtown), and increased accessibility to essential services for at-risk populations. Fortunately, the city has invested heavily into our transportation systems.

If you were to guess what area Edmonton spent most of its budget on, some would pick policing, or possibly roadwork. However, both of these items actually fall short compared to what our city spends on transportation, with 17% of its budget going towards bus and rail systems. 

However, the amount we pay shows in what we’ve received in turn. 

Edmonton has the largest fleet of electric buses — 50! — of any city in Canada. Not only do they produce zero emissions, but they’re also less expensive to keep up. We have a number of excellent subsidized fare programs for students, seniors, and at-risk members of our city who need the transportation to survive. Our recently introduced smart fare terminals allow us to forego using physical money and provide us with better tracking how many people are using public transit.

Unfortunately, the numbers could be better. The city’s projected goal was to have 103,000 riders per year on the LRT by 2020, and over the previous three years, we’ve been unable to break 88,000. Worse, we’ve seen some budget inflation, going over our 2019 budget by 12% (projected costs were around $489 million when we actually spent $549 million). 

Add to this new bus routes that have changed accessibility (and not always for the better), rapid LRT expansion, and a lack of oversight, and what I see are many opportunities to improve the performance and management of what is quickly becoming one of Edmonton’s most important ongoing projects. 

I want to continue our commitment to green transportation, and I’ll work diligently with council to make sure we stay the course towards a low-carbon future. I will also take into account that the needs of Ward Metis’ senior and homeless communities are met, with an ease of accessibility in numerous locations, and consistent checks with residents to be positive our transportation system is working with you in mind. 

As to the issue of the budget, I have several suggestions. 

  1. Improve reporting around fare revenue - the Transit Revenue Management Audit in 2019 found many deficiencies around how fare revenue was reported. By implementing better governance, council will be able to make smarter decisions around allocating taxpayer money so we know not only how much is being spent, but if it makes sense. 
  2. Increasing ridership - an obvious answer, and no small task, but incentivizing riders is essential to both the growth of our public transportation and the shrinking of its budget. Fare discounts, increased shuttle programs to get riders to LRT lines, reliable apps that offer accurate arrival times, and proposing the possibility of free ridership programs are only a few ideas that could help to boost our numbers. 
  3. Pursuing non-fare revenue sources - outside of fares, some of the ways public transit can bring in revenue is through advertisements, service contracts, partnership agreements, provision for charter bus service, parking fees at LRT stations, and Park and Ride services. We currently have no policies around guidance for this, making it an enormous cost in terms of lost opportunity.

Having worked in social services, I know the importance of having reliable public transit and that it can be the difference between a night in a shelter or a sleep on a park bench. Working with government programs, I’ve allocated millions in budgets (and properly accounted for the spending) to make sure that stakeholders for the projects have accurate information to make further decisions on. And I believe in public transit as a unifying element to a city, that makes life easier, and brings residents together. 

Edmonton is fully capable of matching the transportation ingenuity of cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. So help me make a change in our city. 

To donate to my campaign or learn more about my platform, reach out to me at www.lizjohnwest.ca/. Every donation, every lawn sign, and every hour of volunteer time brings us further to creating a more equitable city. I can’t wait for you to join me.