Tristan Hopper, Edmonton-based reporter for the National Post’s National Desk, has written a scathing critique of the new Metro LRT (Light Rail Transit) line – how not to build new urban rail transit – that is devastatingly accurate, and superbly written as well.

The main issue has been the city’s decision to build new LRT lines at grade as much as possible, primarily to save money in the short-term.

Hopper makes mince-meat of the alleged money-saving, pointing out that deliberately creating traffic gridlock at LRT at-grade crossings makes no sense whatsoever.

Environmentally, vehicles are idling six to 15 minutes while waiting at LRT crossings. Efficiency goes out the window when hundreds of commuters and bus riders are held up by one LRT. And Hopper mentions, tongue-in-cheeky, the “spiritual” cost of wasted time and irritation.

Hopper is right. So much so that Mayor Don Iveson, city council, Acting City Manager Linda Cochrane and Transportation Manager Dorian Wandzura might well consider putting all further LRT construction on hold, pending a serious re-think of Edmonton’s public transit, period.

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The current plan to keep the Southeast LRT line and the future West End line at grade, i.e. on the surface, is asking for trouble. If we haven’t learned from the LRT-crossing gridlock at 111 Street and University Avenue, 114 Street and 51 Avenue, Princess Elizabeth Avenue and 106 Street, Kingsway and 111 Avenue, 107 Avenue and 105 Street, then we haven’t learned a damn thing.

It’s also time to re-think the big picture, the future of mass transit in Edmonton. The emergence of big-data planning tools like the Uber ride-share platform plus other new “disruptive” technologies like driverless cars will change all the rules.

Imagine, for the price of your bus ticket/pass today, being able to summon a driverless vehicle that would take you directly to your destination, at the same time (through the power of computing) seamlessly picking up and dropping off other users on the way. Surely such personalized service would be an environmental/cost-effective/convenient upgrade over what we have today.

Imagine not spending billions on LRT and bus infrastructure, doing away with the operating and labour costs of trains and buses often running with minimal passengers, having such excellent transit service that families can drop from two or three vehicles to one?

Much of this is pie in the sky. But it’s coming at us.

Must the City of Edmonton continue to be the owner and operator of mass transit? Other cities seem to easily contract out their transit systems. Municipal ownership is inherently inefficient.

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On turning 65 in early December, I went to city hall to purchase an annual senior’s bus pass for $125.

“You can buy an annual bus pass,” the clerk said, “but it’s only good until April. Annual senior bus passes have to be purchased around April 1 if you want it to be good for all 12 months of the year.”

Oh. Can I not buy monthly senior bus passes, at $14 a month, for December, January, February and March?

“No, you can’t. You can only buy a December pass. January bus passes won’t be available until the last week of December.”

So, on what day, late in the month, should I drop in to a Safeway or 7-Eleven to purchase my January pass?

“There is no set day. It varies from month-to-month.”

Oh. Can I purchase my monthly bus passes online instead?

“Yes, you can. There’s an extra $2 service charge, and you have to time it correctly. The next month’s bus pass will be (snail) mailed to you, hopefully before the end of the month rolls around.”

But you have no set date as to when the next month’s bus passes will be available?

“Correct.”

Is this how the rest of our transit system operates?

Graham Hicks
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