Anyone who’s played Sim City knows you can’t build low-density hous ing all the way to the mountains. As well, any good Sim City developer knows that in order to reduce traffic on the roads and maintenance expenses, one should definitely install not only an efficient transit system, but one capable of expanding to meet a city’s growing needs. In fact, a lack of Sim City je ne sais quoi is one reason why Calgarians are without public transit right now, with no end to the walking in sight.
Think about it: the big argument is over shuttle bus service, which currently accounts for 17 per cent of service. These half-size buses serve low-use areas, such as new residential areas and places where few people take the bus during the day. It only costs $26/hour to run a shuttle (including labour) compared with $49/hour to run a big bus. The city wants to increase low-cost shuttle use over the next few years because it currently saves $6 million a year. More service for less money seems reasonable, right?
Well, not quite. Transit workers feel threatened by a potential increase in shuttles because it could limit their working hours in the future. That’s a fair argument. Unfortunately, keeping Sim City principles in mind, they aren’t going to get what they want.
Here’s why shuttle use won’t fly in favour of the strikers. Apparently, only 100,000 Calgarians actually use transit on a regular basis (out of a possible 850,000). Low use is likely related to a lack of service. New neighbourhoods don’t have full transit service and the service they do have often consists solely of an express bus downtown. People in new neighbourhoods don’t use transit because they’re not conditioned to use transit, but many say that if a system had been in place when they moved in, they would have used it. But now they know where to park and they’re habituated to the car commute. So when transit finally arrived in their neighbourhood (usually with limited weekday service only, by the way) there wasn’t much incentive to get on the bus. So what came first: economical shuttle service to low-use neighbourhoods, or low-use neighbourhoods because of a lack of transit in the first place? Hmm.
Transit can be efficient. Transit can also make money and perpetuate its own service throughout a city’s growth–but only if planners think ahead. Sometimes you have to shell out more in the beginning to reap the benefits over the long haul. Therefore, Calgary Transit will remain inefficient until city planners pull their thumbs out of their arses and leave the ’50s behind (remember when Midnapore was its own town?). The answer all along should’ve been build up (and we’re not talking $450,000 condos on the Bow River) and beef up (transit, that is, right from the beginning).
Kevin Costner’s movie said it best: If you build it, they will come. If they built Calgary Transit efficiently, operators wouldn’t need to strike over low pay and shuttle bus service because transit would be an efficient, economical machine serving the needs of well more than 10 per cent of the population. If Calgary made public transit a priority in the first place, they might be able to pay transit workers what they’re worth, and the poor, elderly and students wouldn’t currently be marginalized in a car-laden city that hasn’t even seemed to blink after five weeks with no service. Of course, for the city to make it a priority, citizens must also agree to an increase in taxes. Right, when hell freezes over. So the strike goes on.
The Gauntlet graciously offers to buy a copy of Sim City for the mayor’s office, if that will help the strike come to an end.