Edmonton councillor's transit inquiry gets rough ride from city council

Edmonton city councillor Aaron Paquette is proposing Edmonton consider making the public transit system essentially free. Vinesh Pratap explains.

Councillor Aaron Paquette’s inquiry requesting a deep dive into the economic development aspects of Edmonton Transit generated a lot of discussion on Wednesday but nothing was settled.

It was also criticized as being redundant because city staff are already generating several reports that look at the system.

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Paquette defended his inquiry, telling reporters he’s looking for more info on “economic benefits, return on investment, outcomes of subsidies, efficiencies, service delivery, economic mobility, productivity. It kind of sums it up to me.”

The idea of free transit, or a zero fare came up, and got a rough ride.

“I’m loathe to leave the idea of a zero fare in play because that is a nine-figure cost impact for the City of Edmonton, equivalent to an at-least eight per cent property tax increase for everyone,” Mayor Don Iveson said.

Edmonton councillor wants free transit for everyone

“To consider discounting it for people who can pay and do pay is an extremely inefficient use of scarce public resources to subsidize the general transit user.

“We went in the direction of targeted subsidy for low-income users which I thought was the right thing to do and still think is the right thing to do,” the mayor added.

A report on fares is due in November, city council was told.

Other reports on the shortcomings of ETS are also in the works, including the overall restructuring of routes, Iveson said.

“We have lost the plot at times of why we are investing so much of Edmontonians’ resources into improving the transit system, that we’ve heard from them, that we want to see better.”

“It just doesn’t… help us,” Councillor Michael Walters said. “We have a number things related to each of these points that are being done,” he said of upcoming staff reports.

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Councillor Tony Caterina took issue with the premise of Paquette’s inquiry about transit being deemed an essential service.

“EPS is an essential service. Fire is an essential service. This, in my mind, doesn’t even come close.”

Economically, for those starting out or getting back in the workforce or for seniors, Paquette thinks it is.

“There are so many people who use transit and rely on it every day that if it was gone, economic activity in this city would be hugely negatively impacted,” he said.

The debate concluded with no resolution.

Councillors weren’t even sure where to send the item for further discussion, so it was tabled and will likely resume at the Oct. 23 council meeting.

At that time, on the suggestion of Councillor Scott McKeen, they’ll find a way to have the Edmonton Transit Service Advisory Board review the inquiry and add some citizen user comments.

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