Where have all our buses gone?

An ETS guide from 1980 recently surfaced on Connect2Edmonton, and it’s worth a look for those interested in seeing how Edmonton’s transit system has changed over time. While the diagrams are interesting in their own right, it’s a little hard to tell exactly what’s happened over the past 30 years without doing a little digging. Do that digging, and you’ll be left with a question – where have all our buses gone?

Back in 1980, the Ward 7 neighbourhoods north of the Yellowhead were relatively new communities on the fringe of the city, so it’s not surprising that the transit system has changed dramatically. South of the Yellowhead is, however, a different story.  While the routes and their numbering have changed, the streets that have service today are largely the same ones that had service in 1980.

Comparing old to new is then a relatively simple exercise, especially for one time of day (the am peak in this case). Take one busy transit corridor close to my home for example: 118 Avenue between Coliseum Station and 97 Street. In 1980, a bus came by nearly every three minutes. In 2010, however, base service is every six minutes (but closer to every four minutes for short trips to downtown).

The story is similar in other areas. Further north, service along 122 Avenue dropped from 5 buses per hour to 2, as southbound service along 82 Street similarly plunged from 10 to 4. Out toward Beverly, the 141 and 142 run every 15 minutes, but when they were known as the 20 and 28, they used to come every 10.

Even service along major routes has dropped. The 3 used to run every 10 minutes; now it’s every 15. Most dramatically, 112 Avenue used to be served by the 1; since that was taken over by the 2, headways have tripled from 5 minutes to 15.

So where did those buses go? While LRT extensions made that system more useful, the LRT was already up and running to downtown in 1980, and we need buses to access its stations just as much today. A more likely culprit is sprawl – even though Ward 7 changed little over the last 30 years, more automobile-dependent neighbourhoods meant transit service needed to be stretched over a greater area.

Edmonton’s population is about 1.5 times higher today, and yet Ward 7’s older neighbourhoods see around 1.5 times less service as in 1980. While this may be depressing, it’s also inspirational in a way. The current council balked at implementing the service increases in a consultant’s report they commissioned, but it’s hard to argue that 10 minute service on major routes is out of the question when that’s exactly what we used to have 30 years ago.

It’s time to start moving forward again.

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