Tim Querengesser is the editor of the hyper-local Edmonton magazine The Yards and a mobility consultant. His work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Financial Post, CityMetric and many other publications.
Edmonton’s new “Ice District” has forced inter-city bus passengers to find a far away station with no public transit connections.
Ed Braun arrived at the Greyhound station in Edmonton at midnight after sitting on a coach for nine hours.
Braun, who is 52 and lives on a fixed income, then walked outside and searched for a public bus to ride to his home, about 4.5 miles away but within the city core. He had $20 in his pocket.
"I saw nothing—I was just looking for a bus stop," Braun said.
That's because there is nothing.
Since June, when Greyhound relocated its Edmonton station from downtown to the edge of the suburbs, Canada's fifth-largest city has no public transit connection with long-haul bus services.
Greyhound's downtown lease expired in June and renewing wasn't an option. The terminal (now demolished) sat atop a subterranean light rail line and seconds from bus connections, but also within a multi-billion downtown revitalization project known as 'Ice District.'
At its core is a new, controversial arena for the city's NHL team, the Oilers, which saw the municipal government invest $226 million (CDN) and loan the 'builder,' billionaire team-owner Darrel Katz, $112.8 million over the next 35 years. Of the total $483.5 million stadium price tag, Katz has invested $19.7 million of his own cash up front.
Ice District will ultimately see more than $1 billion invested in downtown Edmonton—which hasn’t seen real investment in decades—mostly in buildings, including a 66-storey multi-use tower that will be the tallest skyscraper in Canada west of Toronto.
As Ice District started to take shape, Greyhound scrambled to relocate, considering several locations before agreeing in May to share Edmonton's long-haul train station on the outskirts of the city. Several protested the new location, as it further marginalized low-income residents. City politicians paid them little concern.
Braun, who arrived at this new Greyhound station on this recent night, had naively assumed a bus would simply be there.
At the station, he was forced to choose: A $30-$40 taxi ride home or a 1.25 mile, 30-minute walk along a highway without a sidewalk to the nearest street with bus service.
He ended up splitting the strategy—taking a taxi as far as $10 would get him, then walking for an hour dragging his luggage in hopes of finding a city bus.
Finally, exhausted, Braun hailed another taxi. He got home at 2 a.m.
"It's in a bad spot," Braun said. "They should have had it downtown. It should be serviceable to everybody.”
Braun isn't alone. A quick check on Twitter revealed people aghast at how passengers are being left without options.
“I live in the neighborhood and I feel so bad every time I see someone hauling their suitcases across that grass track," tweeted one woman.
“I drive that stretch and always see people walking with suitcases from the Greyhound along desire lines," added another user.
Little is being done to change a situation that sees a central transit node located in the city's hinterlands, 3.5 miles from the core.
"There are no current plans to provide a separate bus route to the Greyhound site as the service is unfunded and there isn't evidence of enough demand to attract a minimum of 30 passenger boardings per hour," said Jennifer Laraway, a spokesperson for Edmonton's transit service.
Responding to a backlash, Greyhound has created a thrice-daily shuttle bus for passengers that runs to and from downtown, though if your bus comes in late—like Braun's—you're out of luck.
Greyhound ticket agents at the station offer little sympathy.
"Walk 10 blocks that way," one told me at the station after I asked about a bus. "You can catch a bus there."
So I did, and half of the walk has no sidewalk—not insurmountable in warmer months, but potentially impossible during the six months Edmonton typically has snow.
Greyhound—which declined an offer to comment for this article*—has asked the city to provide transit service. That discussion is still ongoing, Laraway confirmed.
Until then, Braun remains unimpressed at how a city-backed redevelopment has ended up making life harder for those on the margins.
"It's like a domino effect—one thing leads to another," he said. "They could have had [the Greyhound station] downtown. I see a lot of gravel parking lots [there]. They could have made it good for everybody. It's just bad planning."
*Update: After this story was published, Greyhound provided the following statement:
Greyhound continues to see a need for transit service to and from our Edmonton station. Our downtown shuttle service that runs multiple times a day has consistent ridership and we’ll continue to run that service for our customers’ convenience. We welcome further conversations with city council and transit about the possibility of providing service to our location.