by Colin Smith
Morinville Town Council has put its support behind efforts to develop a regional transit system in the Edmonton metropolitan area.
At its Tuesday, February 25 Regular Meeting, Councillors voted unanimously in favour of joining a Regional Transit Services Commission along with other area municipalities.
The proposed regional plan, to commence in 2022, would see buses running between Morinville and St. Albert. In advance, Council has directed the Administration to come up with a plan for a transit pilot project for this service, operating during peak hours from September to December of this year.
A plan for public engagement before and during the pilot project is also to be brought forward for public consideration.
“Transit is important for a complete community,” said Mayor Barry Turner. “We are working regionally to create shared benefit in many areas. This is difficult work that requires lots of effort to move the region forward. We would be remiss by not taking advantage of this unique opportunity with our regional partners.”
The vote comes after presentation of the report of the Regional Transit Services Commission Task Force, which had participation from 13 municipalities. In addition to Morinville, they are Edmonton, Beaumont, Devon, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Leduc County, Parkland County, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Strathcona County, Stony Plain and Sturgeon County.
Councillor Sarah Hall was Morinville’s representative on the task force.
The Regional Transit Commission Plan has so far been approved by the councils of Edmonton, St. Albert, Leduc, Beaumont, Stony Plain, Devon, Parkland County and Leduc County, while being rejected by Strathcona County. Decisions are yet to come from the other municipalities.
Integrating transit services regionally would achieve an estimated $5.5 million per year in net efficiency, resulting in net realized savings of $3.4 million per year by 2026, according to the Task Force report.
The cost to Morinville is expected to be $180,000 in 2022, rising to $190,000 in 2026. Average operating service levels would be 35 hours per week.
Deputy Mayor Scott Richardson spoke in favour of Morinville’s participation in the regional transit plan.
“I think more and more people are using public transportation,” he said. “I think we have some isolated population here, so having a regional transportation system giving us the biggest bang for our buck is the way to go.”
Councillor Rebecca Balanko pointed to the advantages of inter-municipal bus service for students, while Councillor Lawrence Giffin spoke about the potential benefits to the environment from lower emissions as a result of increased public transit use.
Councillor Stephen Dafoe noted that there is “tremendous uncertainty” about the plan, but he would support moving forward with it because there are at least two points in its development at which Morinville can withdraw if it doesn’t meet the community’s needs.
“Are we ready for transit in Morinville?” he asked. “These are things we don’t know. But fortunately, we have opportunities to get off the bus.”
As directed by Council, CAO Stephane Labonne will now write to the Deputy Ministers of Transportation and Municipal Affairs for the Province of Alberta declaring Morinville’s support for creation of a Regional Transit Services Commission for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.
The commission would be governed by a board made up of one elected member of Council from each of the participating municipalities.