Editorial: Calgary Transit funding in peril

By Ryan Pike

After hard financial times hit, the city of Calgary has included some rather brash cuts in their proposed 2010 budget. Nearly every city department faces reductions, except for the Calgary Police Service. One of the departments hardest hit is Calgary Transit. As a result, Calgarians without cars might want to reconsider their options.

Over the past several years, the municipal government has been pushing the merits of Calgary Transit at every turn. It’s cheap! It’s plentiful! It’s expanding! The rising price of gasoline, coupled with the mounting costs of maintaining Calgary’s outdated road system, made investment in trains and buses logical — even ignoring the multitude of environmental benefits. Heck, the Bronconnier government even managed to finagle millions of dollars from the provincial government to fund the long-planned west leg of the LRT and, as of this writing, construction is almost underway.

However, after the financial ass-kicking the city took in 2009, fairly broad cuts have been made to the budget to keep the impending tax hikes low — only 4.8 per cent, it is an election year, after all. As a result, Calgary Transit is axing 21,500 service hours. Details haven’t been ironed out yet, but the city is targeting cuts for low-usage routes. The idea is to better utilize the system by trimming empty buses. The unfortunate side effect is that these cuts will likely see routes in the city’s fringes stripped back or cut altogether.

The bizarre thing about the city’s latest move is that it runs counter to its previous message. Back when plans were made to expand transit spending and coverage, the marketing push was that once public transit was established as inexpensive and effective, Calgarians would abandon their cars and the roads would empty and everyone would be better off in the long run. In the short-run, though, sacrifices would have to be made. Of course, now that we’re in an election year, the only thing being sacrificed is Calgary Transit’s ability to get Calgarians where they want to go in a timely fashion.

Historically, Calgary has embraced urban sprawl, much to the detriment of the environment and the ability of anyone without a car to get anywhere. As a result, Calgarians have flocked to the automobile and all of its trappings — including hour-long commutes. Hardest hit are those living in the outskirts, as they have rarely been offered the kind of public transit accessibility that inner city dwellers take for granted. Now that cuts have to be made, the city’s least-utilized bus routes are likely facing the axe — the irony being they’re the least used because they’re barely offered as an alternative to drivers in these areas.

In the long-term, Calgary’s transit plan may actually come to fruition. Calgarians may abandon their cars and fully seize the joys of public transit. However, in the short-term, not much will change. Those who live in the inner city, where Calgary Transit offers a wide array of services, will continue to utilize those services. Dave Bronconnier’s old ward is about to get an LRT, making it one of the city’s best-served areas. For Calgarians in areas like Tuscany, MacKenzie Towne and other outlying areas . . . well, they better gas up their cars and dig in for the long haul, because to Calgary Transit, those areas might as well not even exist.


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