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  Administrative Updates   Item #   8. a.    
Regular Council Meeting Agenda
Meeting Date: 05/12/2014  
Transit Service Review Phase 1 Update, May 2014 - Levasseur
Department: Planning & Infrastructure  
Strategic Vision Element: Related Goal:

That the attached Transit Service Review - Phase 1 Update dated, May 12, 2014 be accepted as information.

The purpose of this Transit Service Review - Phase 1 Update is to provide Council and members of the public with an overview of the preliminary outcomes of Phase 1 of the Transit Service Review. It includes details on proposed short-term concepts which will be the focus of the public consultation period scheduled for mid-May as well as a discussion on other options considered. The complete Phase 1 Project Report will incorporate this input and other project background/analysis details and be brought back to Council tentatively in late June.

Transit Review Overview

Spruce Grove’s commuter transit service has operated for over seven years now, first as a pilot project and then as a regular service. Since an initial route restructuring in 2007, only minor modifications and expansions to the service were made. Over the same period, the community grew significantly with several new neighbourhoods developing in areas not serviced. Demands for more coverage, frequency, and destinations within Edmonton and the Tri-Municipal Region were made by the public. Also during this time the City adopted a number of strategic policy and planning documents identifying transit as a priority for the future.

Project Approach

The City’s Transit Review was split into two phases to allow the City to begin moving forward with some service changes in the short-term while waiting for clearer direction at the regional level with regards to whether or not a transit commission will be developed.
  1. Phase 1 focuses on short-term system changes within the existing ETS contract approach. It will be completed in 2014 with a staged implementation starting in the fall of 2014 pending Council approval of the revised concept.
  2. Phase 2 will be a 10-year business plan based on the outcomes of the regional governance study currently in progress. If required, Phase 2 will include a review of different operational models. It is slated to start in 2015. 
Preliminary Vision and Core Principles

Prior discussions about route concepts have focused on technical details and schedules. As Council moves toward final decisions on its short-term service approach, it’s important to identify a vision and core program principles. The initial vision and principles were developed based on principles in four adopted strategic documents:
  • 2015-2017 Strategic Plan
  • Municipal Development Plan
  • Transportation Master Plan
  • Capital Region Board Intermunicipal Transit Plan
A comprehensive transit program that provides accessibility for all members of the community and is designed to keep up with growth.

Core Program Principles
  • Integrated with land use
  • Connected to other modes of transportation
  • Accessible
  • Viable alternative
  • Equitable
  • Fiscally prudent
  • Part of the CRB transit network
Proposed Concept

Recommended changes to the Spruce Grove commuter service are outline below in a series of stages. There are two different approaches considered for ‘Stage 2 – 2015’. While a recommended approach is suggested, further analysis and Council/public input is required to determine the best option. Additional options explored are discussed under the ‘Options’ section of this report. 

Stage 1 - September 2014
  • Incorporate schedule adherence issues to improve on-time performance (required).
  • Minor modifications to existing Spruce Grove route to improve service to Harvest Ridge and Spruce Ridge.
  • Continue service to downtown Edmonton but cut direct service to the University of Alberta
  • Add a midday route leaving Edmonton around 1:30-2:00pm and running express back to downtown Edmonton
  • Introduce two subsidized fare products: student pass ($95) and integrated pass ($165)
Stage 2 - September 2015, Option A "Two Routes" (Recommended)
  • Split existing peak hour Route 197 into two routes. Offer four trips per route in both AM and PM directions, both of which service downtown Edmonton. Five AM trips may be needed to provide reasonably convenient service to riders. The midday afternoon trip helps alleviate the need for this in the PM.
  • Locally, the two routes will continue to service areas already covered by Route 197 and add service to Spruce Ridge, Harvest Ridge, Hilldowns, Stoneshire, Linkside, Aspenglen, Deer Park, and Greenbury.
  • The midday service will be maintained. This route however will run the same route as the modified ‘Route 197’ to reduce costs while still providing decent coverage throughout the City.
  • This option is more expensive but is recommended because it seems to better align with the principles in the adopted plans.
Stage 2 - September 2015, Option B "One Routes"

  • Maintain modified peak hour Route 197 (Stage 1) but add an eighth trip in each direction. This would respond to rider demand for later service in the morning and in the evening.
  • No new neighbourhoods would be added.  
  • The midday service would be maintained.
  • Current riders are more likely to see this as a service improvement than Option A.
Stage 3 - September 2016

  • Introduce a reduced coverage WEM service that runs hourly between Spruce Grove and WEM between 5:30pm – 10:30pm Monday to Friday.
  • Service allows residents to travel to high demand destination in the evening. Enhances daytime service by increasing flexibility for riders and serves students with evening classes or workers looking to stay late (WEM is a major transfer station with excellent connections from most of Edmonton).
  • Service would operate on a 15-minute reduced coverage loop within Spruce Grove. This is a common practice for evening routes in Edmonton. This greatly reduces the cost as it allows the entire service to be operated by only one bus. After leaving Spruce Grove the bus would run express to WEM via the HWY 16A and the Anthony Hendey.
Stage 4 - September 2017

  • Provide hourly Saturday reduce coverage service between Spruce Grove and WEM between 9:00am and 7:00pm.
  • Responds to demand for weekend service to Edmonton.
  • Service follows the same 15-minute reduced coverage loop within Spruce Grove as the Monday-Friday service.

Other Project Factors
  • Work with the Capital Region Board - Regional Transit Advisory will continue to explore the feasibility of a regional transit commission. The City will continue to explore opportunities for connections to Acheson Industrial Area and future partnerships with Parkland County and the Town of Stony Plain.
  • The Provincial capital transit grant GreenTRIP is now open again. Concepts for funding are being refined and a proposal will be submitted by the November 2014 deadline.
  • Opportunities to link the commuter-oriented service with STS were not explored. The better time to look at these connection is when planning a full-schedule local system. Looking toward the future however, and reinforcing access to the commuter system, the City should ensure all vehicles uses on its system are fully accessible.
A number of options were explored within the existing ETS-based contract approach. A detailed analysis of these options will be included with the final Phase 1 project report. As part of the 2013 work, DanTech developed ridership and costing assumptions for four different options each based on splitting the local Route 197 into two separate routes. The rationale for the local route split was to expand coverage into neighbourhoods currently not serviced directly.

The initial four options considered by former contractor Dan Levy focused on peak hours similar to the existing service:
  • 5 trips one route to WEM-South Campus LRT, 5 trips one route to downtown Edmonton (previously recommended approach discussed above);
  • 5 trips one route to NAIT LRT, 5 trips one route to WEM-South Campus LRT;
  • 5 trips per route to WEM-South Campus LRT, and;
  • 4 trips per route to NAIT LRT (lower number of trips due to lower anticipated rider demand).
While Administration is working to update the costing on these options based on the revised scheduling data and ETS input, some key findings from this analysis are relevant to the discussion here:
  • service not travelling directly to downtown will see lower ridership and revenue levels as it will inconvenience the downtown worker market (i.e. riders who pay full price and ride year round);
  • ending all trips at South Campus or NAIT will require major fare policy revisions as all riders will now be required to transfer to ETS, and;
  • directing all trips to South Campus will essentially require the City to rebuild its ridership base.
Recent discussions with ETS staff reinforced DanTech’s findings; ETS staff stressed that the reason the City’s current system is the most successful of the smaller suburban contract systems is because it directly serves key destinations and is relatively affordable and convenient. The recommendation was for the City to continue serving its core market, downtown, while providing connections to other destinations through LRT transfer points.

The preliminary outcomes for the Phase 1 Transit Review work were based on the input collected from the online survey completed in spring 2011. Over four hundred people responded, split roughly in half between non-users/former-users of the system and current-users. An on-board rider survey was completed in March 2014 to update the City’s data and verify that planning discussions were moving in the right direction (237 responses). Feedback was mixed but reinforced many of the original messages from the 2011 online survey. A summary report on this survey and other public input received will be provided to Council as part of the full project report. Ongoing input (phone calls, email, social media) from riders was tracked/analyzed and used to inform this process as well.

A public consultation period is scheduled for May following the public-launch of the preliminary Phase 1 outcomes at the May 12 Council meeting. The focus of the public input period will be on providing information, verifying that there are no major problems with the proposed concept, and getting reaction to the two different Stage 2 options (2015). The high cost of the service and associated high level of tax payer subsidy make it challenging to appropriately respond to resident’s expectations for this service.
The current implementation focus is for the proposed Stage 1 changes only (fare policy changes, midday trip, schedule adherence, and cut UofA direct service). The timeline included in the attached report is based on a September 2014 implementation. Additional stages will be considered for implementation as part of the 2015-2017 corporate planning cycle discussions.
Strategic Goals
Goal Four - Providing Quality Services - The City of Spruce Grove will continue to improve the effectiveness of how it delivers its services, promoting improvements and efficiencies in delivering services to the community and in the internal operations of the City itself.  

Fiscal Impact
Financial Considerations:
Detailed preliminary cost estimates for the service changes are included with the attached report. Administration is continuing to work with ETS to finalize these numbers and get a better understanding of revenue potential. If implemented as proposed, Stage 1 will be under budget from the project funds approved last November. There are a number of factors involved however the most dominant factor is the major service adjustments were pushed back to 2015. The impact of the revised concept on the 2015 budget will depend on whether Council proceeds with Stage 2 - Option A or Stage 2 - Option B.  
Transit Review Phase 1 Update

City Council and Committee of the Whole agendas and minutes are posted on the City of Spruce Grove website for information purposes only. These agendas may be changed at the discretion of Council by the addition or deletion of items. Anyone reviewing the draft agenda should do so on the understanding that it is subject to change by Council.

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Audio from the most recent City Council and Committee of the Whole meetings are available via podcast on the City of Spruce Grove website.

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