The Couch Potato: Do the C-Train shuffle

There are plenty of things to hate about the C-Train. It’s often late, costs too much and is filled with people you would avoid like the plague if you could afford a car. Alderman Ric McIver has pinpointed another thing he hates about the C-Train: sitting.

In an effort to cram even more people into the city’s already over-crowded public transportation system, McIver and the rest of city council this week voted six to four to investigate removing the majority of seats from C-Train cars. McIver estimates taking out the seats would add an additional 50 passengers per car and increase system efficiency.

Unfortunately, city council’s move may have the opposite effect. Coupled with last year’s 25 cent hike on fares, from $2 to $2.25, Calgarians would be asked to pay more for a lower-quality service. The Calgary Transit website lists C-Train capacity at approximately 160 persons per car, at peak times often exceeding that figure. Cramming another 50 bodies into them won’t entice more ridership and would likely have the opposite effect. When public transportation is more of a necessity than ever–given Calgary’s traffic gridlock and downtown parking shortages–any move that discourages transit use is a poor one.

Given Albertans’ status as oil-rich technocrats, there’s a conception that Alberta has money bubbling out of the ground to be spent on anything. While this image isn’t exactly accurate, recent figures have put the upcoming budget surplus at around $7 billion, enough to buy 1,750 new train cars at $4 million each. There certainly are other things to spend the surplus on, like health care and education, but provincial infrastructure is definitely a priority, as shown by the $1 billion in infrastructure grants ear-marked in the current budget.

What’s even more mind-boggling about the move is how it comes as the city of Calgary is about to receive an additional 40 cars, increasing its fleet by over 33 per cent. Coupled with the widely-publicized plans to extend trains to four cars and expand stations, the move seems like putting a bandage on a bullet wound–completely inadequate, and illogical, since we’re capable of stitching it up.

Calgary Transit’s mission statement is “To provide safe, accessible and courteous public transportation services in response to the needs of our customers.” When the provincial surplus is this large, there’s no reason why the city should think about spending money to worsen services instead of getting money from the province to improve them.

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