(Michael Walters is a former Edmonton city councillor and is now a partner at Berlin Communications. EMTSC has been a Berlin client since mid-2021, before Walters joined the company.)
The Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Services Commission (EMTSC) had a credible promise: It was to draw all the competing transit systems in the region together into one for the sake of seamless integration and ease of use for the rider — who now could get from anywhere to anywhere in the region.
Many people on past Edmonton city councils knew there was a logical and important integration between regional transit, smarter regional land use, climate action and investment attraction. If you want to attract higher-paying jobs for educated and skilled young professionals in existing and emerging industries, you needed denser, more vibrant communities in which regional public transit and modern mobility options were table stakes.
So, what could be the problem here?
Let me get right to the point: There are four primary reasons the EMTSC faces demise.
1. The outsized influence of the local transit union at City Hall
The fact that many new councillors were ready to pull the pin on the commission as early as last February, just a few months after being elected and before any real debate about the issue or the region more generally, suggests to me they were carrying water for the Amalgamated Transit Union. Leadership at the union persistently associated the new commission with privatization of a public service when that was never true. In fact, even if we (previous council) wanted it to be, which we didn’t, such a move would not comply with Alberta labour laws. The union knew this but kept up its narrow messaging nonetheless.