Transit advocates worry about neglect

Originally written December 2017.

After Calgary Transit narrowly avoided budget cuts, advocates say that maintaining service, and possibly spending more on transit, is needed since demand is increasing and often overlooked.

The city had wanted to cut 46,800 hours of bus service to help balance the budget, but on Nov. 29, city council voted to spend $4 million to maintain service.

The amendment to reverse the proposed cuts was put forth by the new councillor for Ward 3, Jyoti Gondek.

In a phone interview, Gondek said that the measure was necessary to maintaining a consistent vision for Calgary Transit.

Gondek said that cutting service time would eventually “force people into behaviour that is regressive, not progressive.”

She said it “seemed counterintuitive” for council to enact transit cuts while also committing to low-income transit passes and the Green Line expansion.

Gondek also said that transit is taken for granted by many Calgarians.

“People who don’t take transit tend to assume there’s buses and trains everywhere,” she said.

One reason Gondek opposed the cuts was because of the disproportionate impact on Ward 3, but another transit expert said the cuts would cause deeper problems.

According to Nathan Pachal, a Langley, B.C. city councillor who produces the annual Transit Report Card of Major Canadian Regions, cuts would have had a wide impact.

“Cutting service hours [would] cause a reduction of service on routes that serve areas with lower ridership, and will result in over-crowding on already busy route,” said Pachal in an email interview.

In August, Pachal gave Calgary Transit a grade of “A+” in his third Transit Report Card.

This was an improvement over the “B” grade he gave the city in his first two reports.

However, Pachal also wrote that “Calgary, like other regions, is not keeping up with [transit] demand.”

When asked to elaborate on this comment, Pachal said that “the amount of transit service hours provided per resident in Calgary has been slowly declining over the last three years.”

He said that increasing service hours should be considered, even though it would increase the budget.

“At the same time, those hours should be invested where there is the greatest demand which will increase the productivity of the transit network,” Pachal added.

Gondek agreed, saying that council could make transit more efficient by cutting non-viable routes while using resources where it was highly needed.

One such high-demand, overcrowded, youth-centric area is the SAIT / Alberta College of Design (ACAD) / Jubilee CTrain station.

Gondek said that young people, particularly students, were one key group of transit users.

She said that during the 2017 civic election, representatives from post-secondary institutions reached out to candidates to keep transit affordable and that service is maintained.

In May 2016, the city’s general manager of transportation, Mac Logan, told council that ridership was down 4.8 per cent due to the economic downturn.

However, Logan also said that youth ridership was slightly increasing.

Three students surveyed at the SAIT/ACAD/Jubilee station agreed that while they were generally satisfied with transit, there was still room for improvement.

Students Riley Lundy and Hayden Vair said that the CTrain was essential to their commute, because neither had a driver’s license.

According to Gondek, not only students but also recent graduates were concerned about transit, because they do not want the debt from owning a car.

“Vehicle ownership is neither a priority nor a reality for many young people,” the councillor said.

Mitchell Bignell, a first-year SAIT student, said that he had a car, but that it was “buried in [my] driveway right now” behind many other cars in his neighbourhood.

Bignell and Vair both said that the frequency of the train was their only complaint.

Vair, an ACAD student, said that the CTrain schedule was “kind of erratic.”

Bignell said that he wished the train stopped more frequently during rush hour.

The students’ comments on the CTrain were in line with Calgary Transit’s public findings.

In 2016, a Calgary Transit survey found that 32 per cent of transit users were “very satisfied” and 49 per cent were “satisfied.”

However, the report also stated that improvements desired that “continue to top the list” included “more frequent service, expanded service, and better punctuality.”

“Everyone is looking for more of everything,” said Gondek.