Fort Saskatchewan council opted to give two transit-related requests a pass on Tuesday.
Councillor Brian Kelly made a couple proposals at council’s most recent meeting, both aimed at finding ways to make the city’s public transit system more efficient. Council voted 4-3 against each of the motions.
“I want to stress unequivocally to everybody in the room that I support the provision of transportation assistance to any citizen within Fort Saskatchewan that needs the service,” Kelly said. “I also support though the wise expenditure of our cash.”
Kelly’s first request was that city staff look into the logistics of combining public transit service with other local modes of transportation such as taxis, Uber, or the Special Transportation Services Society (STSS) to provide door-to-door service for special needs situations.
City manager Troy Fleming commented on the timing of the proposal, suggesting that the city may want to hold off on making changes until the details of a new regional transit commission started by Edmonton and St. Albert get sorted out. He also said that there is some hesitation in the transit world to jump into working with services like Uber.
Councillor Lisa Makin, a member of the STSS board, also suggested that it might be better to leave the issue until another time.
“I agree that the timing of this particular motion might be best for next year when we're looking at contracts coming up,” she said.
Kelly next proposed that administration come back in October with a report outlining a plan to bring down the cost of transit, including ways to cut up to $200,000 from the annual budget and better align costs with actual ridership.
"Hopefully we can find some ways to make our system more efficient," he said.
Some council members argued that Fort Saskatchewan’s relaunched local transit system, only in its second year, still needs some time to continue growing.
“It obviously takes time to expand a service, to promote and sell a service, to get people used to using the service, to having it be available in a convenient way so the people know they can rely on the service,” said councillor Gordon Harris. “And I don't believe two years is ultimately a long enough period of time to really ultimately achieve all that.”
Fleming pointed out that public transit is a cost-heavy program and that chipping away at costs while keeping service efficient could be challenging.
"But administration can find some suggestions to come back with cost reductions based on the wording of the motion," he said.
Councillor Deanna Lennox supported Kelly’s proposal, saying that the city should take the opportunity to do a bit of a review.
“Just because you come back with recommendations doesn't mean that we have to accept them," she said.
Kelly’s motions and the ensuing discussion took place on the heels of a transit status update presented to council by transit supervisor Anthony Dionigi and infrastructure management director Richard Gagnon. According to the update report, from 2016 to 2018 ridership on local transit increased by 53 per cent, with commuter trips to Edmonton up 20 per cent.
The city's cost recovery for the service has also increased, from 9.65 per cent in 2016 to 17 per cent last year. With more money coming in from advertising revenue, passes, and increased ridership, cost recovery for 2018 is projected to reach 20 per cent.

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