Doubtless, many of you went out to celebrate the new year with a drink or two at your favourite establishment. Indeed, I’m sure many of you stayed out into the wee hours of the morning. Those of you who did may have noticed something a little different on the streets of Edmonton, something you wouldn’t see at two or three in the morning on a normal night — that’s right! Buses!

ETS has been offering the free, extended late-night New Year’s Eve service for more than 20 years, and with good reason; according to ETS, tens of thousands of people use the free service the night of Dec. 31 while out and about celebrating the new year — thousands of people who need safe, reliable and sober rides home.

Arguable though, late-night service is a necessity every night.

According to Shirley Lowe, executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, a pedestrian count of Whyte Avenue (between 103 Street and 105 Street) in the fall revealed 2,800 people out on the street at night.

To put the late-night numbers in perspective, the daytime count of pedestrians on Whyte Avenue during the same area totalled between 800 to 1,200 people.

“Transportation is a big factor in maintaining social order and safety,” said Lowe, and it’s not hard to see why. Anyone who has been out to the avenue late at night knows that getting a cab is nothing short of impossible due to chronic shortages — there simply aren’t enough cabs to cover the demand for them citywide at night.

And when thousands of young, alcohol-fuelled revellers are essentially trapped in an area of a few blocks, there’s bound to be some issues — whether it’s the incidents of violence brought on by liquid courage or it’s people making the poor decision to drive home drunk because they can’t get a cab.

Providing reliable, safe, affordable and, most importantly, sober transportation to clear the crowds and deliver people home could provide a safer environment for all Edmontonians.

ETS unfortunately has no plans to extend late-night service in 2009, despite optimism throughout 2008 that we might see at least an extra hour or two of service starting this year.

But despair not! By writing to your city councillor and voicing your support for extended late-night or 24-hour service, we might see this much-needed transportation improvement in the 2010 budget.

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