Transforming Transit – Tackling a changing transit world: part 3

Edmonton Transit Service

Step 3: The future is now

It takes a village…to transform a transit system. Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) hasn’t been alone in its quest to make transit better for the Edmonton region. It’s taken years of collaboration inside and outside the transit walls just to get the green light to push the reset button on some important services. While not every single player agrees with each step, all remain committed to the vision and direction of transit, including City Council, regional partners and the province.

Take environmental impact as an example. With the support of the Alberta government, Edmonton will soon add up to 50 electric buses to its fleet through a single purchase. “Both the City and the Alberta government made their mandates clear – they want to reduce GHG and have a smaller environmental footprint. Considering we have nearly 1,000 buses moving all over the city, it was an obvious choice for ETS to invest in electric buses,” says Eddie Robar, Branch Manager of ETS.

Edmonton is staying true to the lessons learned from past decisions by balancing tried and true versus innovative and complex. “We are installing overhead charging and plug-in charging because we don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of this new-age beta versus VHS debate. It’s much smarter to spread our bet now than try and catch up a large-scale investment later.”

Electric buses aren’t the only new technology Edmonton is exploring. In fact, electric buses have started a bit of a snowball effect when it comes to new transit infrastructure. Currently at full capacity, ETS recently received provincial funding for the planning and design of a new transit garage in order to grow service and meet the needs of an expanding city. The new garage will house more electric buses and be built to LEED standards that maximize the use of renewable energy. ETS’ electric bus program was also awarded funding through Emissions Reduction Alberta for important R&D that will provide cost savings for expanding the program to other transit garages. “We’re excited to be on the forefront of electrifying our bus fleet and continuing to be a leader in Canada. This funding is the perfect complementary piece as we forge ahead with greening our fleet, reducing emissions and lowering our carbon footprint,” says Robar.

Technology is also playing an important role when it comes to customer experience. Today’s rider expects to be plugged in wherever they go. They want connections to be fast and reliable. That’s why ETS is taking a methodical approach to rolling out Wi-Fi across the system. “When we launch Wi-Fi, we want it to be done right. We want our customers to be happy with the service they are getting,” says Robar, who notes Wi-Fi isn’t just for checking social media but is also important to the actual transit experience. “Technology is rapidly evolving. There are huge advantages when it comes to safety and security, but also daily conveniences. Tourists would be able to rely on public transit to get around the city easily. Customers could see instantly if we have an unplanned service disruption and how best to get around it. They could opt in to special promotions or use their devices to purchase their fares once smart fare becomes part of our system. The options are almost endless.”

Technology benefits aren’t just for customers. Public transit agencies are also changing the way they work with suppliers, especially advertisers. “Eventually, we could get to a place where we can offset some of the costs of running public transit and keep our fares favourable for the customer through the benefits of a strong technology platform,” says Robar.

As ETS keeps its eye on the prize, the organization has already started to see a return on its “reset” investment. With recent changes to service, security enhancements, and infrastructure upgrades, ridership has stabilized for the first time in nearly 5 years.

“We’ve been working hard to fix our flaws while also laying out a strong plan for the future. The early indications are promising so we are confident that ridership will recover and then grow,” says Robar.

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