Ex-Edmonton City Councilor Michael Walters made several assertions in a recent column about city council’s decision to withdraw from the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Transit Commission that deserve careful scrutiny. In his list of reasons why the Commission initiative failed, Walters lists first “The outsized influence of the local transit union at city hall.”
While ATU 569 is honored that Walters would assign us such power, we doubt that our influence was council’s first priority. In fact, we see 13 intelligent, committed members of city council who heard from numerous sources about the regional initiative and made a reasoned decision based on facts and the needs of their constituents. Walters owes them an apology. Instead, he hectors them.
Second on the Walters list of why this version of regionalization failed is what he calls the “myth of existing regional transit”. As long as we’re talking about mythologies, we should include the myth of efficiencies and savings. Walters and his cohort, including St. Albert City Councilor Wes Brodhead spent considerable resources promoting the idea that “We’re going to save you some money.” In the end, there were no savings. In fact, there’s a long list of expenses for which the municipalities are still on the hook and we have yet to see a single hour of Transit service.
Transit users commute daily on fixed routes to and from Edmonton, St Albert, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove, Ft. Saskatchewan, Strathcona County, Beaumont and Leduc and they do it on a single fare medium – the Arc Card – that is accepted by all buses. These are facts, not myths. The Union supports and promotes the concept of a regional transit system and we look forward to participating in the development of more and better regional measures and to doing it without expensive commissions, CEOs, COOs, executive assistants and legal counsel.
Walters also worries about how regional relationships will be affected by their decision. Having served on Council for a number of years, Walters well knows that Council’s first priority is to represent Edmontonians. Council, in its wisdom, decided that funding the regional transit commission was not in the best interests of Edmontonians. Regional relationships have to take a back seat when it’s Edmonton footing the bill.
When Strathcona County, the second largest partner in the commission, pulled out of it, years ago, people expressed their disappointment, but stubbornly carried on. That was the real beginning of the end for the Commission and it should have been stopped dead in its tracks at that time. It was the failure of the Don Iveson-era city councils, of which Walters was a member, that cost Edmonton so much. To now criticize the current council for fixing their mistakes – and there were many – is both unfair and unreasonable.
As for a path forward, we hope that it is already underway. ATU is prepared to roll up its sleeves and get to work developing more and better regional initiatives sooner than later. The will is there. Now we need to commit to transit ideas not corporate ideas and move forward to a brilliant regional transit system that is the envy of the country. We don’t need an expensive boondoggle that robs us of direct control of the heart of our City Plan and serves only the needs of a few at the top.