City planners address issues hindering ridership
Despite heavy investment and continual growth in public transit, Calgary's overall ridership numbers remain lower than other major Canadian cities.
Toronto sees 24.3 per cent of commuters using public transit, according to Statistics Canada's 2012 numbers. In Montreal the figure is 23.13 per cent, Vancouver sits at 20.84 per cent, while in Calgary only 17 per cent of commuters use transit.
However, a look into the updated numbers compiled after the west LRT expansion indicates the City of Calgary is taking steps towards increasing ridership, and the investments are paying off.
"The ridership numbers have gone up significantly. I believe citizens are starting to see the benefit of public transit," explained Ron Collins, spokesman for Calgary Transit.
Calgary's ridership numbers peaked at 107.5 million in 2013, a substantial increase from the 102 million in 2012 and 96.6 million in 2011.
According to Wayne Drysdale, the provincial transportation minister, "Every new public transit project that goes forward helps to reduce traffic congestion and better connect our communities."
The most noteworthy undertaking was the completion of the west LRT expansion.
According to Alberta Transportation, the city spent $473 million on the west LRT expansion that opened Dec. 7, 2012.
The venture was the largest infrastructure project for Calgary LRT since its inception in 1981. The line connected the city to western communities with six new C-Train stations.
Some 32,400 people use the west LRT every day, resulting in over 11 million total riders per year.
There are many factors that influence commuters' decisions on whether they will use transit or drive, but Collins believes that Calgarians are starting to see the value of choosing transit.
Collins suggests if drivers consider parking fees, the cost of maintaining a vehicle and insurance compared to using public transit, they may realize Calgary transit is "the best bang for your buck."
While ridership numbers have gone up in an attempt to connect a growing population, they still fail to rival those of our neighbours to the east or west. Public transit is still not the preferred option for many commuters.
"It [public transit] is just brutal. It doesn't go anywhere near close enough to my work in the northeast. I do not want to wait for a bus to connect me to a train to get home. I drive each and every day," said Jason Parkin, an Inglewood resident.
Chris Jordan, manager of strategic planning for Calgary Transit, addressed the problems facing LRT usage in the city. "Younger cities, western cities in particular, tend to have lower ridership on transit systems because their big growth happened in the auto-oriented last half of this century, so that's one big factor. Another though, and the bigger factor, is just land use intensity."
Jordan went on to explain how the City of Calgary is addressing these issues. "We actually have a land use and mobility plan that charts direction where we will have more people living next transit quarters in the future. And that's not just to build ridership in and of itself, it's also to contain urban sprawl and make sure that our city in the future is a sustainable city, where you don't need a car to get around."
For most Calgarians, convenience is a major concern with the transit system. People do not like the waiting, scheduling and walking associated with using transit. Anyone who has welcomed a new calendar year in Calgary knows how dreadful it can be outside in winter.
Joshua Tessier, a resident of the northeast community of Whitehorn, takes transit every day. "I wish there were more trains during rush hour. It feels very claustrophobic with so many people riding during that time."
These sorts of complaints are to be expected in a city growing as fast as Calgary.
Chris Jordan also went on to talk about improving the ridership experience.
"Improving our service, working on being more customer focused, getting things out there like real-time information, air conditioning on C-trains, air conditioning and stop announcements on buses," he said. "All the little things that when we ask customers what would make it attractive to take transit instead of driving, we're filling that gap."
- By Paul Rodgers and Rodolfo Neyra