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Case for public transit

It’s a favourite complaint for any city-dweller (besides parking) – transit! Almost universally, you will always hear complaints about how terrible transit is, regardless of what city you live in or how you utilize it. Whether it’s a complaint over the lack of service for those who do use it or as an excuse by those who don’t use it, transit seems to be one of the most maligned municipal services anywhere.

Yet despite it’s ignobility, transit is a critical public service, for many reasons. The provision of public transit is often a status symbol for municipalities – a sign that the community is growing. The complexity of the transit system portrays the sophistication of the community as well, from simple bus routes or dial-a-bus systems to a complex system of buses and trains. These systems provide convenient transportation options for those who don’t own their own vehicles (or can’t afford to), as well as those who can’t afford to utilize other transportation options, like traditional taxis or Uber.

Here’s the big ticket item though – public transit is a major equalizer. Access to public transit means mobility within the community. Individuals are no longer reliant on personal vehicles to get to work, volunteer, or shop – this means more employment opportunities, more community engagement and more spending within the community. Adequate public transit can lift low-income earners up, as they are able to search farther for work, can access services easier or take additional training for greater career opportunities.

Not only does it act as an equalizer for employees, it also improves independence. Seniors no longer able to drive or those with disabilities can still travel within the community using public transit. Youth can get to school on their own, or get to and from part-time jobs, without requiring parents to serve as chauffeurs. Recently, the expansion of the U-Pass program in Edmonton has increased access to post-secondary education for prospective students in Fort Saskatchewan, Spruce Grove and Leduc, ensuring reduced expenses in getting to and from campus.

It can be very difficult to recognize the benefits of public transit when you have other transportation options. I never truly appreciated Edmonton’s transit system until I travelled to other cities. New Orleans, as an example, has a much smaller transit system than Edmonton – 35 routes in New Orleans compared to over 300 routes in Edmonton. Edmonton has over three times as many bus stops as New Orleans, and nearly five times the ridership levels, despite having similar populations (although significantly different population densities). I would take Edmonton’s system over New Orleans any day, given how easy it is to get around the city. Sure, we may not compare to major urban centres like New York, Ottawa or Vienna, which has an amazing transit system
by the way, but we should appreciate the value of transit availability.

Of course, things can always be better and we should continue to push for that. The continued issues with the Metro LRT line, reduction in bus service to different neighbourhoods in Edmonton, poor scheduling, there’s no reason that we should just accept shortfalls. It can be frustrating that what would be a seven-minute drive takes 45 minutes by transit or if you have to wait at an intersection for the LRT. Before you complain about public transit, think about what it actually offers, what it represents.

Since I’m moving back to small town Alberta next year, I know I’ll definitely be thinking about it, especially when I’m not able to take the bus across town to avoid dealing with bad drivers.

– Nicolas Brown, Issues Editor

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