Calgary Transit focuses on restoring service and safety in recovery strategy

Calgary Transit officials are proposing a number of safety initiatives and service improvements as part of a new recovery strategy to help boost ridership.

The details of the recovery strategy were shared with city councillors at Friday’s community development committee meeting.

According to a report presented to committee, Calgary Transit’s current ridership is approximately 59 per cent of pre-COVID levels with around 85 per cent of pre-pandemic service levels.

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Transit officials anticipate that ridership will grow throughout the summer months to between 65 and 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by the fall.

According to the recovery strategy, transit will increase service to 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in September and is expected to hire an additional 300 operators by the end of the year.

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“‘Building back better’ gives us the opportunity to potentially serve a demographic that wasn’t the traditional nine to five commuter downtown,” Calgary Transit director Sharon Fleming told the committee. “As we focus on developing our priority transit network, we may be able to actually deliver a more equitable service and see the same ridership but through different travel patterns.”

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Fleming also told committee that transit will be offering reduced fares throughout August and September as a promotion to attract riders.

The strategy proposes that transit explore the feasibility of expanding on-demand transit service for four to six communities, as well as the installation of passenger counters on CTrains to determine if service capacity is meeting ridership demands in real-time.

Safety for transit riders has been a concern for several councillors in recent months, following several violent or drug-related incidents along or near CTrain platforms across the network.

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In response, Calgary Transit has outlined several proposed investments including the hiring of security personnel on the transit system to help support peace officers, as well as upgrading the system’s CCTV cameras with incident detection to help improve dispatch response times.

Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal said he had concerns with the proposed investments towards CCTV cameras on platforms rather than using the money for more uniformed security.

“CCTV cameras are going to only allow (riders’) safety after the fact, when something happens and a peace officer comes to help them,” Dhaliwal said. “So I would recommend that we look at an option of not having CCTV upgrades but investing that money into people who are wearing uniforms.”

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In response, Fleming said that the money that will be used for CCTV cameras is one-time funding.

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Calgary Transit is also expected to hire a third-party consultant to study the feasibility of implementing a closed system after Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean proposed the concept of looking into piloting turnstiles at some Ctrain platforms.

However, some councillors shared their concerns with the move after previous estimates showed it would cost $400 million to implement a so-called “closed system.”

“All of our previous studies and all of our current back-of-napkin calculations sort of indicate that it’s preposterous to think that it’s a way we’re going to end up going,” Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said.

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Fleming told committee that transit is looking to limit any costs associated with third-party consultations on a closed system to less than $100,000.

Following discussions at city council, Fleming said a study would help give councillors an idea of the magnitude of the cost to implement a closed system, but also additional ideas to improve the service.

“What it will do will give us options and maybe some other ideas around how to enforce fare evasion, which is the primary concern for doing this report in the first place,” Fleming said. “Do I think we’re going to be fully closing the system any time soon? I think that’s a significant investment that we would have to prioritize against other activities that we want to do in the city.”

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Several councillors said they were encouraged by the strategy outlined in the report and hope it will help bring riders back to the transit service.

“What transit has done is they’ve taken a look at the shift in travel patterns across COVID, taken a look at how safety patterns have changed through COVID and are responding with plans that address those changes specifically, as opposed to just coming back (with the) same old,” Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner said. “So I’m encouraged that transit is taking an innovative approach.”

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