With ridership at just 59 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, Calgary city council has received a plan to boost transit use as life in the city continues to look more like life before COVID-19.
The plan by city staff brought to the community development committee focuses on getting service back to 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by September through capacity investments and the addition of 300 transit operators by the end of the year.
With the words “build back better” sprinkled throughout, the report says city staff expect this will help increase ridership to 65-70 per cent through the summer and fall.
“That return to service is gradual because it is taking time to hire operators. It is taking time to hire mechanics,” Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner told reporters Friday. “And then we are making those route adjustments as well to better serve Calgarians for the lifestyle changes they have experienced and are seeing post-COVID.”
While the city hopes to soon bring service almost back to normal at 90 per cent, a full return to pre-pandemic service won’t happen until the end of 2023 with ridership potentially taking longer to reach 100 per cent, according to the report.
Service investments include the introduction of on-demand service in four to six communities that don’t have transit service, which has already been piloted in several parts of the city.
The plan also includes “floating bus stops” away from the edge of the roadway to facilitate more accessible boarding and temporary summer patios.
The city will also look for greater feedback on all the investments as well as spend more on data gathering and storage.
“I think it is critical that we are trying new things. I think that is what we’re seeing and that we are asking Calgarians to be part of that uptake,” Coun. Penner said.
Pandemic brought safety concerns
The increased alarm for public safety on city transit in recent months has led to concerns about a lagging return of ridership.
“Customer perception of safety on the transit system will play an important role in influencing whether customers will return to using transit as things reopen. Calgary Transit is committed to providing a safe and clean system for all Calgarians,” Sharon Fleming, director of Calgary Transit, told council.
To build on that commitment, she says, Calgary Transit will add new transit guards, who will add additional uniformed presence within the system as well as provide support to transit peace officers.
She says they will also make lighting and security camera upgrades at stations and park-and-ride lots to include features that will help detect incidents automatically and alert security to improve dispatch times. Inadequate lighting, in particular, was flagged as a safety concern by system users, especially women.
The plan says the city will hire a third party consultant to investigate the feasibility of building a “closed system” with turnstiles and fences preventing people from entering without paying a fare.
Customer improvements will include:
- The introduction of bike racks on the remaining half of 40- and 60-foot buses that don’t already have one.
- The continuation of all-hour access for bikes on CTrains until Aug. 31.
- Discounted fares for August and September.
- Marketing and service ambassador campaigns.
- Increased cleaning across the system.
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