Edmonton’s transit needs are changing and will continue to change as our city grows. The transit needs of Edmontonians don’t stop at our transit hubs, or outside the Henday. Therefore earlier today I put forward the following notice of motion to explore how we might be able to use emerging transportation technology in Edmonton:

Preamble: Around the world emerging transportation technology is providing people with new ways to move. An example of this is trackless LRT currently being tested in China with full operation expected at the beginning of 2018. As this transit technology market is evolving quickly, it presents Edmonton with opportunities to connect more people than ever before to high quality mass transit.

Motion: That Administration provide a report on how emerging transportation technology could work across Edmonton and throughout the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. This report is to include but is not limited to:

  1. High level costs (both operating and capital) for trackless LRT and emerging mass transit solutions in the Edmonton market.
  2. Viability of emerging technology (ex: operating in winter conditions, potential travel times, safety considerations, etc.)
  3. Opportunities to serve more Edmontonians beyond the existing LRT network plan.
  4. Based on the findings from points 1 – 3, whether new options emerge that Council should consider for the network plan when alternatives might work better than traditional rail-based rapid transit, either interim or permanent.
  5. Any considerations necessary to allow companies who are working on emerging transportation technology to bid on proposals or offer new proposals.

This motion was sparked by an article I read a few weeks prior about a Trackless LRT currently being tested in Zhuzhou, China. With the suggestion that the cost is substantially less than building a standard low-floor LRT while still having the ability to move a large amount of people quickly, I thought there should be a final review of emerging technology before we go out to tender the West LRT construction in 2018. While the city is exploring the opportunity for BRT in other parts of the city as part of the Transit Strategy we know that BRT wouldn’t work for the West End due to the volume of people expected to use the system. The operating costs for BRT to move such a large amount of people does not make it viable but something like the trackless LRT presents a unique opportunity. The motion asks for an analysis of the cost because if there is new technology that can offer lower operating costs (typical of LRT) while maintaining lower capital costs (typical of BRT), why wouldn’t we take advantage of that option?

Think about the potential of having a lower capital cost and the opportunities those savings present. The West LRT is the number one priority for construction in our city. But as there is a need to complete grade separation of the LRT at key intersections, the original projected construction costs must be updated. The new budget required to build it right may not allow the city to address gaps in our transit system in other parts of our city. Whether it’s the Southwest, Northwest, or Northeast, there is a desire by residents across Edmonton to have access to high quality mass transit.

Looking exclusively at Ward 1, if there is an option to provide a service as good or better than the existing low-floor LRT at a lower cost, we could expand the service to reach beyond the current end point of the Lewis Farms Transit Centre. I was always interested in seeing proper transit connect people to the future Lewis Farms Rec Centre/Library but with the understanding that we do not have an unlimited budget, I assumed that goal would only be accomplished after we were able to provide high quality mass transit to other parts of Edmonton.

An important note is this motion does not reopen the prioritization discussion or provide an opportunity to change the route. The West End of Edmonton is getting mass transit next and the route has been in place since 2009. We cannot afford to delay which is why it was important to bring forward this motion now. We have a small window of time to complete a review of emerging technology across the world to determine what the costs are and if emerging technology can provide better service than what we are expecting with the West LRT. If after completing the review we determine emerging technology is not viable, then we simply proceed as planned and put the West LRT project out to tender in 2018. But if it is viable and more cost effective, we should look to provide better service to more parts of Edmonton in a shorter amount of time.

I look forward to exploring all options utilizing the information from this report. As transit is one of the City’s largest expenditures, it is crucial that council does our due diligence before making key decisions regarding our transit network plan.