By GRAHAM HICKS
The ETS (Edmonton Transit Service) 747 bus route – from the Light Rail Transit (LRT) Century Park southern terminal to the Edmonton International Airport – is an evidence-based, practical measurement of the city/region/provincial commitment to urban transportation, tourism, and general efficiency.
Any city worth its salt has user-friendly, inexpensive and modern public transit between its airport and downtown.
Toronto is a North American leader for airport-to-downtown options. The very modern and efficient UP Train leaves every 15 minutes and provides 25-minute service from Pearson International to the downtown Union Station transport hub. The $12 fare ($6 for seniors and students) is heavily subsidized.
Or, for $3.25, you can take a regular Toronto bus from the airport to the Kipling subway station, hence to downtown – about an hour and a bit. It’s less convenient and has more transfers, but it’s cheap and frequent.
Edmonton has been unbelievably stupid about creating such crucial public transit links.
We didn’t even have a public transit (bus) service to the airport until 2012, when, two years after the LRT was extended to Century Park, the 747 bus line was instituted.
The airport bus service was forever delayed over bickering between Edmonton, Leduc and the airport authority over who paid for what.
The fact of the matter is the 747 route has the same operating costs/subsidies as any other of the city’s arterial bus routes.
When the route started, and to this date, the airport service has been as cheap as humanly possible.
Noisy, bumpy, uncomfortable and uninviting city buses are used on the 25-minute run.
Bus operators are not obligated to assist passengers with luggage. I suppose they can help if they feel like it.
There is no automated ticket dispenser. A $5 CASH ONLY fare is payable only to the driver. No change is given out! If all you have in your wallet is a credit or debit card, or nothing smaller than a $10 bill, too bad. How many international back-packers will carry local currency on arrival?
You could go back into the airport, find the airport information desk, buy two regular bus-fare tickets that the 747 bus now accepts, and go back to the bus. Except by then it will have left.
At the Century Park station, you still pay an additional regular fare to board the LRT train.
Airport departures are every half-hour during rush hours, once an hour in between. If you miss the 10:27 a.m. bus from the airport, you can sit at the Tim Horton’s on the arrival level and drink coffee until the 11:27 a.m. bus.
Back before Christmas, who-pays-what inter-municipality squabbling started up again. Edmonton City Council considered shutting down the 747 bus route, before voting to double the fare. Fortunately, some kind of regional deal has been worked out, and the fare is back to $5 – cash only.
Baby steps: Post-secondary student U-passes are now accepted, as are two regular bus tickets. Wi-fi has been added. The bus now makes a secondary stop at the airport’s just-opened Premium Outlook Collection Mall.
Still, I cannot imagine making a worse initial impression on economy-minded tourists.
The airport authority has done a superb job over the years making the International Airport modern, accommodating, friendly and efficient.
Meanwhile, the City of Edmonton – where the clear majority of airport users are bound – seems content to make the public-transit journey into the city a less-than-pleasant experience.
One listens to the sugarplums promised by politicians as indeed, regional cooperation does become more of a reality.
You watch the snazzy Alberta Tourism social media and TV commercials wooing the world to our province. Edmonton Tourism spends $9.5 million a year to bring in tourists. You look at a city council fixated on non-necessities like super-fancy bike lanes and now gondolas.
But where the rubber hits the road, the only public transit option from airport to city is in a rattle-trap of a bus, de facto cash-only, gives out no change, only operates once an hour (every half-hour during rush hours), and does not require operators to help passengers with their bags.