Calgary Transit Sucks

I was having a discussion with Doug down in the Bistro this morning, and I came to a rather interesting realization: Calgary Transit sucks.

Let’s have a realistic view, here. Calgary is the third or fourth largest city in Canada. We’re over a million people (we recently had our one millionth baby, but I suspect we’re actually well over that number in population). We have a massive city by area because Calgary hasn’t quite figured out that we should be building up, not out.

Calgary is attempting to address this fact by improving roads. Roads. As in expecting people to drive. Wow. There’s incentive to take public transit. Okay, in their defense, the C-Train will be up in the Northwest at Crowfoot Crossing in the next year or two. But not in the Northeast or in the effective places in the south, where the city is growing the fastest.

The bus system is a joke. Some parts of the city are well-served. But overall, it’s far from what this city needs. Ottawa at least had the smarts to put in bus routes that use their own roads, where cars cannot go. Calgary can’t do that because the roads are already filled with cars carrying a single person. I know — I used to be one of them.

A few months ago, I used to drive to work. Seven-odd kilometres one way. Fifteen minutes if I hit every light and got stuck behind slow people. I had a prime parking spot. It was everything I shouldn’t be doing. I live SEVEN kilometres from work. Why on earth would I drive? I decided in the spring to bike and bus. So far, the biking is going very well — I can get to work almost as fast as it took me to drive. Getting home takes a bit longer, but it’s mostly uphill.

The bus is a different story. Although the #7 is actually pretty convenient in the morning, the afternoon is another issue. I’ve been passed by at the stop near my office several times because the bus was full. (There were a couple of cases where the bus simply didn’t show up.) The telephone schedule is wildly inaccurate because the bus never actually follows that schedule.

The bus where I am is good compared to those poor folks who end up living on the outskirts of town. Bus service exists out there too, but the timing sucks. Somewhere, the person at Calgary Transit who sets the schedules needs to spend some time with the people who ride the bus and ask how it works for them. Based on all the people I’ve talked to, it’s not working.

There are a series of express buses designed to help funnel people in from the outer ring. For these people, it can cut as much as 50% off their commute time. But it doesn’t come without a price. People have to start earlier and have to leave early or face a long ride to and from work. One of my co-workers, Colin, has to run out at 16:55 sharp every day or face the prospect of a long ride home because he’ll miss the last express. The last one. Not the last for an hour … the last of the day.

What Einstein doesn’t know that most offices actually close at 17:00?

This baffles me beyond belief. Yes, some places in Calgary close earlier in the day, but not all of them. Many places are open until 17:00 or later. But too bad if you’re not one of the lucky few who actually close when Calgary Transit says you should. This insular ignorance of reality amazes me to no end. (The same problem exists with the West Coast Express in Vancouver. Vancouver runs more on the 9-5 workday than Calgary does!)

And lest you think that I’m just some rambling idiot (which I very well may be), my friend Tom has piped in with his own thoughts:

I figured moving to a company right downtown where the C-Train is close would be great. Not so. In order for me to catch the C-Train at the Dalhousie station, I have to be there before 06:40 just to get a parking spot. The Citadel bus (199) goes right past the Dalhousie station and feeds the Brentwood station. Where’s the logic in that? When the weather is nice, I get to ride my Hog-2-be to work (I double park in the bosses spot). Riding the bike takes 25 minutes from Citadel to downtown. Driving to Dalhousie and taking the train usually takes about 40 to 50 minutes. It costs in fuel for the bike $1.00 each way, transit – $2.25. Just to recap, when I can ride my bike, it takes half the time for less than half the price and I don’t need to squeeze myself on the homebound train, which of course is the last stop out of downtown going North West. Why in the world would I ever want to take Calgary Transit??? I am so looking forward to our company moving out of downtown and up on Centre street and 11th ave North in October where I will have my own parking spot and never have to rely on Calgary Transit again!

Calgary has a 15 year plan to expand all the C-Train stations to add a fourth car to the trains. And eventually they’ll get enough cars to handle the load. Already the trains are packed tight. We’ll need to hire some Japanese pushers to get everyone in before too long. We don’t need longer trains in 15 years — we need more trains now. We need to double the number of trains, and then use those cars to expand the three-car trains to four-car trains in the future. We need to expand the C-Train route to the southwest to Westhills, the southeast to Mackenzie Town, the north west to Tuscany, the northeast (admittedly, I don’t know the area up there that well), and for God’s sake, can we please run the C-Train to the airport? Would it really kill someone to think that Calgary should have a single route from the airport to downtown? Or am I being grossly naive here?

The bus routes, as Chris recently pointed out, are all undocumented. If you don’t live here, you have no idea where the bus is going or when it should come. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to put up schedules on the bus stops and put maps so people know where they’re going. Really smart bus companies show major routes so people know where to change to other routes. London has this figured out. Tokyo has it down to a science. Paris has it made. Honk Kong is a breeze. Calgary’s a frickin’ disaster.

And it costs a lot for the privilege, too. $2.25 by current prices. That doesn’t get you much. And Calgary Transit wonders why they’re losing money.

Someone please wake up and check out the reality of the city’s transportation needs? We’re grossly behind compared to other cities, and if we have any hope at all of stemming the tide of cars driving in and out of downtown, we need some common sense helping set the direction.

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