City eyes $32M in surplus money for Calgary Transit recovery

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City eyes $32M in surplus money for Calgary Transit recovery
As ridership continues to rebound on Calgary Transit, the service is struggling to ramp back up after reductions during the pandemic. As Adam MacVicar reports, new surplus money is being targeted to help the recovery. – Mar 22, 2023

As the ridership continues to rebound on Calgary Transit, a city committee has endorsed investing surplus money to help ramp up services levels and cover revenue losses.

As part of a discussion on service investment and improvement Wednesday, the city’s executive committee voted in favour allowing Calgary Transit to access up to $32 million from the fiscal stability and operating budget savings account to offset pandemic revenue losses and continue recovery spending.

The move still needs to go to city council for final approval.

“In order to provide the quality of service that Calgarians expect, we’ve got to make sure that we’re properly funding public transit,” Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said.

According to Calgary Transit, this year’s revenue shortfall is anticipated to be between $40-50 million dollars, but is expected to improve.

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A loss of ridership in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a revenue shortfall of $93 million, which grew to $106 million in 2021.

The transit service reported a $67 million revenue loss in 2022.

Previously, the revenue losses were offset by matching emergency relief funding between the federal and provincial governments; however, similar funding isn’t expected again this year.

Gondek said there are conversations between the nation’s big city mayors and their federal and provincial counterparts to encourage increased funding for transit, so municipalities wouldn’t have to be the sole source of funds.

“A different kind of partnership, a different kind of funding opportunity would certainly be beneficial for those who use public transit,” Gondek said.

“It would also drive up the use of public transit, which allows us to accomplish a lot of goals around the environment, and it also creates a type of social equity that all three orders of government are committed to.”

The latest ridership data from Calgary Transit showed that in January, CTrain usage had returned to pre-pandemic levels, while bus boardings were at close to 70 per cent of where they were in 2019.

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But Calgary Transit is still in recovery mode and trying to ramp up service levels, with efforts underway to hire more operators by the end of 2023.

Safety on Calgary Transit remains a big concern for riders in the city, especially after dark.

City data shows 74 per cent of Calgarians do or would feel safe waiting alone at a CTrain station during the day, but 58 per cent said they’d feel unsafe waiting alone after dark.

The City of Calgary announced Wednesday upgraded lighting at all of its downtown transit stations between City Hall and Downtown West/Kirby stations.

City officials said the enhanced lighting will allow for clearer footage from security cameras and improve visibility on platforms.

“As we continue to take steps to improve transit riders’ safety and customer comfort, increased visibility is key to helping our team investigate situations and dispatch personnel as quickly as possible,” Calgary Transit director Sharon Fleming said in a statement.

But those who use the service as part of their daily commute told Global News more work needs to be done to address social disorder on the service.

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“I see a lot of disturbing incidents of homelessness and drug use… I’ve seen paraphernalia, I’ve seen fires at stations,” Diana Elekes told Global News.

Elekes said she regularly reports incidents during her commute on transit but hasn’t seen an improvement.

David Cooper, a principal at Leading Mobility Consulting, said the number one way to address safety is to ensure ridership levels are high on the service.

According to Cooper, retaining ridership requires transit to maintain funding for post-pandemic recovery and increasing the level of service.

“If you reduce service during times of recovery, you end up in a situation where you make it less attractive, and then you actually get less ridership, and then you actually get less revenue,” Cooper said.

Calgary Transit noted other safety initiatives include the presence of Calgary Transit Ambassadors throughout the system, increased staffing levels at the operations control centre to monitor the system’s 1,200 CCTV cameras.  The operations centre also dispatches officers and responds to safety texts from customers.

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Transit officials encourage riders to use the Transit Watch program to report a safety concern by: texting 74100, calling 262-1000 option #1, or by using the help button or phone at CTrain stations.

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