City Manager to bus passengers: “We heard you. We’re responding quickly.”

Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin said Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) is adjusting transit service with an eye to the big picture after “the customer service experience wasn’t what it should have been today.” 

On Monday, the City—noting an almost 50 per cent drop in ridership level and anticipating more passengers staying home—had announced a move to Saturday levels of bus service to begin Tuesday. 

The prediction was not accurate. 

“This morning’s commute was not what we envisioned,” said Laughlin. “We expected more Edmontonians would be staying home. Today we learned that some routes remain nearly as popular as before.”  

“As a result, Edmontonians called 311 to report that buses had passed them by. They circulated pictures of crowded buses and LRT cars on social media. And they contacted councillors about their concerns.”

Interim City Manager Adam Laughlin, City Hall, Edmonton, March 17, 2020

More buses, more flexibility, more monitoring 

Laughlin said the City is quickly working to find the right balance of extra-clean transit vehicles and the right number of vehicles on the road for the travelling public during a time of COVID-19 protection. 

“This morning’s experience tells us we need to recalibrate the balance,” said Laughlin. 

That starts immediately with the Tuesday afternoon commute. 

More buses are being added, notably on the busy routes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 15, 17, and 112.

Buses on 10 weekday routes that do not have Saturday service—16 Express, 80, 83, 84, 92, 95, 122, 137, 182 and 33—are being added. 

Standby buses to respond to areas of overcrowding are being added. 

“We will have more opportunities to address issues as they arise,” said Laughlin about using standby buses. “We will continue this practice going forward.” 

The insights and lessons of each rush hour will shape planning for the next rush hour.

“We are monitoring morning and afternoon rush hours, and using those insights to help us plan for the next cycle,” said Laughlin. “If needed, we will make adjustments day by day.” 

The big picture balance 

In an afternoon news conference at City Hall, Laughlin underlined that decisions about levels of transit service are also made with an eye during a pandemic to the sustainability of the service itself. 

For instance, the decision to move to Saturday service was informed, in part, by a positive aspect of reduced service: transit planners are able to rotate buses and train cars regularly and clean them more often. 

“This provides us the best opportunity to keep our transit operators safe and healthy for an extended period of time so that we continue to offer service during this pandemic,” said Laughlin. 

Eddie Robar, Branch Manager, Edmonton Transit Service, at the microphone

The work of municipal officials, in this case, is to plan for the long term in a way that respects service levels now. 

An additional complexity is that fewer buses make for conditions, at some times of the day, where social distancing becomes more difficult on buses

Eddie Robar, Branch Manager, Edmonton Transit Service, said his team is making ongoing adjustments to the number of buses, frequency of buses and size of buses to enhance social distancing.

Laughlin also asked those bus passengers who can to help the cause by travelling, if possible, at non-peak times. 

Thank you for reading this, and for using ETS. 

News conference, City Hall, Tuesday, March 17, 2020