Expensive pass fees and little parking space force many to rely on inefficient transit
While Calgary's new LRT line slowly creeps west, thousands of students at Mount Royal University continue to ask the same question: why trains are not stopping at their school.
Many students see the need for sustainable transportation, but don't believe the current bus system is a viable alternative to driving to campus.
Nursing student Roxanne Reyes lives in the northwest. She faces a two-hour commute to and from MRU every day. Yet she can't afford a car, making transit her only real option.
"If there was a C-Train close to where I live – or even a C-Train to Mount Royal – then I could just take one train and be here," said Reyes.
Business administration student Jameela Ghann does own a car, but can't afford the parking fees on campus. Her commute lasts at least 90 minutes each way, and that's only when the bus is on time.
Students aren't the only ones feeling the transit blues — many MRU employees have to deal with the buses as well. Patsy Valenzuela in Career Services commutes daily from the northeast.
If everything goes smoothly, she said, her trip takes one hour. But with the recent wave of C-Train breakdowns, she said it's more like two hours.
"The bus is so packed, you've basically filled it twice."
After witnessing several people "go flying" when the driver hits the breaks, Valenzuela said overcrowding has become a real safety concern for her.
According to manager of planning Neil McKendrick, Calgary Transit is taking steps to improve bus service to MRU.
But it will be over a year before students see any change: according to McKendrick, those new routes can't be expected until December 2012 or early 2013.
McKendrick explained that the reason the changes will take so long is because they have no money for new service next year.
Brian Pincott, alderman for Ward 11 – which includes MRU – fought to have the West LRT plan changed before construction began. He said the current route was planned 20 years ago, long before Mount Royal became a university.
Recently, MRU has begun significant expansion and growth plans, which has underlined what Pincott saw during the initial West LRT planning stages as "a significant case to have the line turn south at Westbrook Mall and pick up Mount Royal."
He said he received little support from elsewhere.
"At the time, I was pretty much the only person making that argument," said Pincott. "There was a little pressure from the [Mount Royal] Students' Association, but certainly nobody from MRU administration."
He added that he hasn't heard from any ordinary students about the issue.
Pincott has since proposed an additional southwest Bus Rapid Transit route to compensate for the lack of C-Train service to MRU.
McKendrick called Pincott's proposal "the number one project on our unfunded list."
The express bus line would get 15,000 people a day out of their cars and moving through southwest Calgary. Studies have estimated the cost of Pincott's pet project at roughly $40 million.
That may seem expensive, but Pincott said it's a pittance compared to the half a billion dollars earmarked by city council for the future airport tunnel project.
So what can students do?
"Be involved," said Valenzuela. "Be an advocate, because you can make change."
"Send [city] council an email. Send me an email. I'm the alderman for MRU, but I do not hear from many students. I do have meetings with the [Students' Association] executives. Those guys talk to me and that's great. But nobody else on campus does."