A strategic update to a plan that will guide Calgary Transit for the next 30 years will include greater focus on the frequency of buses and trains across route coverage.
The updates to the RouteAhead plan were heard by the city’s infrastructure and planning committee on Thursday.
According to accompanying documents, the updated plan will “chart a new course” for Calgary Transit by shifting its focus to “building a frequent transit network that makes travel easier.”
The strategy update is part of a scheduled 10-year review that includes 22 changes to the plan.
Among the most notable changes is a planned shift to a frequency-oriented network rather than a coverage-oriented network.
The focus on frequency means some Calgary Transit riders will have to travel further to a bus stop, but the service will come more often, city documents said.
City of Calgary reiterates enhanced oversight for CTrain stations
Transit officials said the increased frequency will be prioritized in areas where data shows higher ridership, based on designation from a committee tasked with advising the strategy update.
Ward 3 gr. Jasmine Mian sat on that advisory committee and said the frequency of service was the “No. 1 thing” councilors heard from riders in the engagement on the strategic update.
“Because we’re such a big city, we have to make some trade-offs in how we can deliver that frequency, and that’s really what RouteAhead is starting to think about,” Mian told reporters.
According to transit officials, the increased frequency will move toward the implementation of what is called the Primary Transit Network (PTN), a series of routes where trains and buses arrive every 10 to 15 minutes, 15 hours a day, seven days a week.
Out of about 150 bus routes around the city, about 30 have been identified as part of the PTN, transit officials said.
Committee heard the changes will help create a faster, more frequent and reliable transport network.
“When you’re spreading the peanut butter over the slice of toast, that’s what you’re doing when you’re trying to get coverage,” acting transit planning coordinator Jordan Zukowski told the committee.
“We heard from people during this engagement process and we heard from people during the budget that they want to see frequency, and it’s frequency that leads to people actually choosing transit and making transit a viable transportation option.”
Calgary Transit says 2 years needed to improve service as safety issues are worked on
David Cooper, a former senior planner at Calgary Transit who now runs Leading Mobility Consulting, told Global News that high-frequency transit networks are being implemented in cities such as Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax.
“You might have to walk a bit more, but you have more of a turn-up-and-go type of service. And that’s something we’ve seen in cities across Canada,” Cooper said. “When you look at ridership recovery in Canada, high-frequency networks are what bring people back to transit.”
However, some board members had concerns about the strategic change away from coverage.
Ward 13 gr. Dan McLean told reporters that while he felt frequency was important, he was concerned about how reducing coverage would affect suburban residential routes.
Calgary Transit has announced a realignment to several south Calgary bus routes that will take effect on December 19th.
“In Millrise, there are some senior centers where they just cut off a few blocks to make the routes a little faster,” McLean said. “But now I worry about those seniors who now have a few blocks to walk to the nearest transit station.”
Committee voted 6-5 in favor of the proposed changes to the strategy and sent it to the city council for final say.
Councilors Andre Chabot, Peter Demong, Dan McLean, Sonya Sharp and Jennifer Wyness voted against the changes.
According to Sharp, there was a lot of confusion among councilors about how a prioritized focus on frequency would affect riders, and she was not comfortable voting in favor.
Sharp said confusion will hinder council members from outlining the potential changes to transit riders in their wards.
“Once things start to change in their world where they have to walk further and spend 20 minutes just walking there to get to a bus, which might not be there for 10 minutes … they’re going to reach out to us offices and complain,” Sharp said.
“So we have to make sure it’s not about the process or the service, it’s about the rider.”
While people may have to walk further to catch a bus or a train under the proposed changes, transit officials said there are community-specific connections included in the plan to improve accessibility to transit stops and stations.
“We’re going to have to make it a lot easier for more people to live even closer to train stations,” Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra told committee.
The updates to the RouteAhead strategy also included a list of prioritized future transit projects based on a set of criteria that includes ridership, rider experience, social, economic and environmental factors.
The Max 301 North and the 52nd Street East Bus-Rapid-Transit Line earned the highest marks, with the northern leg of the Green Line rounding out the top three projects.
Cooper said the 52nd Street BRT Line has the potential to result in significant transformation of the area.
“If we look at ridership recovery from across the city, that particular area has had very consistent ridership throughout the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Cooper said. “It’s a very sought-after area for logistics, supply chain — a whole range of different types of services and industrial types of work that require additional transit service in an area that’s also a bit difficult to serve.”
The main proposed changes will go to the city council for final strategic direction before the entire updated RouteAhead strategy is completed next spring.