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Things to be proud of, but room for improvement.

The good news is that Edmonton’s bus system is operating efficiently. Our data shows that Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) is delivering services at a lower cost than other similar cities. We can also be proud of our bus and LRT ridership levels, accessibility for people with mobility issues, and our courteous drivers.

However, there is always room for improvement. Reliability of bus service (on-time performance) has been declining as the transit system deals with rapid growth in our city. Also, operating costs are outpacing revenue, bus frequency and connections are rated poorly by some customers, and the transit network can be hard to understand.

These issues come from making trade-offs. For example, the low revenue is because we offer discounts to people who require them most, and the complexity is due to routes being tailored to the needs of specific areas.      

The Transit Strategy project will give us long-term direction to help address these issues. ETS is also working on other ways to improve service delivery. Most passengers will notice changes like Smart Bus and Smart Fare. There are also projects going on “under the hood” to improve efficiency, performance measuring and reporting back on results.

What does performance tell us about our priorities?

Tracking our transit performance helps us to see what’s working well and identify areas that need improvement. However, measuring transit performance isn’t as easy as it seems. There are a wide range of factors that can be measured, and different things matter to different groups. ETS currently records hundreds of items related to fleet operation, finances, service levels and customer satisfaction. These are combined into 30 high-level performance measures used to guide decision-making.

It’s a balancing act, because something that improves one measure may reduce another. For example, some residents depend on routes with few riders. We could move those buses to routes that are overly crowded, but that would leave some areas with no transit service at all. 

Data collection, processing and reporting takes time and money. Therefore, it is critical to ensure we measure the most important factors to help us achieve our goals.

How are we performing currently?

Number of riders

The number of people using Edmonton transit has grown at a faster rate than the population has increased. Currently ETS sees about 89 million passenger trips per year, 101 passenger trips per capita. In comparison, Calgary has about 110 million passenger trips per year and 92 trips per capita and Mississauga has 36 million passenger trips per year and 48 trips per capita. ETS numbers are generally above average for similar cities, but they continue to look for ways to increase ridership.


To improve transfers, schedules are set so that many buses meet at transit centres at the same time. To ensure this system works well, ETS considers a bus “late” if it arrives at a transit centre more than one minute behind schedule. This is becoming increasingly difficult to do as ridership and traffic congestion grows, the city expands outwards and inefficient curvy roads become more common. Because of these factors, ETS’ on-time reliability has been steadily declining and is well below its goal of 90%. 

Financial performance

Public transit is usually supported by a combination of fare sales and taxes, because all citizens benefit from reductions in emissions and less traffic congestion. ETS recovers about 45% of the cost of providing transit service through fares. This percentage is within the norm for similar cities, although slightly below average.  

Number of people per bus

Currently, about 8% of service hours are not meeting the standard for minimum number of passengers and about 3% trips are overcrowded. While 3% may not sound like a lot, it can be very uncomfortable experience for people taking the most popular bus routes during rush hour. The underused buses could be moved to help with reliability and overloads, but that may leave some people with no way to get around.

Big Changes Ahead

ETS recognizes the challenges it is facing. In addition to developing a Transit Strategy and improving performance measures, other important changes include:

  • Implementation of Smart-Bus and related real-time, customer facing bus tracking information
  • Introduction of Smart Fare along with a revised fare strategy, scheduled for 2018/2019
  • Recent adoption of new software packages to improve data collection and network operations
  • Infrastructure projects such as LRT expansion
  • Testing of electric powered buses

Next Steps

Part of the task ahead of us is to determine what choices we need to make to achieve Edmonton’s goals for transit, and how we should measure them. What’s most important to you in a transit system?

For More Information

Transit Strategy Project Team


In Edmonton: 311
Outside Edmonton: 780-442-5311

TTY 780-944-5555

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