Transit strategies don’t have to be expensive – Metro US

Transit strategies don’t have to be expensive

Climate change plans are the “in” thing for cities these days, and through policies on buildings, land use, and transportation, some cities are making strides toward measurable reductions.

As for Edmonton, well, not so much. The city is planning — hoping, really — for a 20 per cent emissions reduction from 1990 by 2011, but the 20 per cent we’ve managed is in the wrong direction. Given the lack of action, this isn’t exactly a surprise.

It’s not a lack of plans. The latest runs 163 pages and, among other things, suggests increasing the proportion of hybrid buses to 40 per cent of the fleet.

However, like last year’s transit growth strategy, it’s just another big dust collector.

The decision to scrap the plan was spun as hybrids being not as important as getting people out of their cars and on to transit. On this point I don’t disagree.

One of the problems with hybrid buses is the cost premium over regular diesel buses:

Currently, the choice is two hybrids or three diesels. Fuel savings help, but a 15 to 20 per cent reduction doesn’t close the gap.

Another problem is there’s little for a rider to tell a hybrid from a diesel without the gaudy window decals and odd interior lighting ETS likes to put on its hybrids.

Unfortunately, the real reason was probably the $74-million price tag. Rather than “we should be spending that money on more diesel buses” or “we should be using it to expand off-peak service,” the argument seems to be that “transit is good, so we don’t need to spend money.”

Sure transit is good, but without improvements the city simply can’t meet its goals. Besides, political capital spends just as well as cash. Strategies to improve transit, boost ridership and reduce emissions don’t have to be expensive.

In the past I’ve suggested overhauling the route network and consolidating bus stops. Creating limited stop routes would also work. Bus lanes are even better, but they need to be longer than the new eight-block lane on Stony Plain Road.

By speeding up travel, the same number of buses can run faster and more often. Ridership goes up, fuel consumption from being stuck in traffic goes down, and the city gets back on track to meet its climate goals.

If money is the only issue, these strategies should be win-wins. If it’s just chronic fear of action at council, well, at least I didn’t waste 163 pages.