A strategy aimed at increasing transit service and frequency is expected to include some significant costs over the next decade, according to a memo to Calgary city councillors.
The RouteAhead strategy is long-term plan to guide transit service, with a recent update shifting gears to more frequent service along what’s called the Primary Transit Network.
The updated targets would see service frequency of every 10 minutes, at least 15 hours per day, seven days per week.
According to a memo to councillors on the city’s Infrastructure and Planning committee, $755 million in capital costs are required to achieve the goals laid out in the strategy.
$405 million of those costs would be to procure 540 net new buses over the next 10 years, as well as $350 million over the same time frame for a new storage and maintenance facility to accommodate the increased fleet.
“For customers to have service that they can rely on throughout the day, evening and weekends, requires more service than we currently have,” Calgary Transit’s acting director Chris Jordan said Tuesday.
“That requires more buses on the road and facilities, back of house, to support them as well.”
The memo said the costs for increasing the fleet of buses would be spread out over the next decade, while the costs for the maintenance facility would be divided equally over three years in the next budget cycle starting in 2027.
However, Calgary Transit’s budget would also require increases, the memo said, by $127.4 million by 2034; an average annual boost of 3.7 per cent.
The jump in operating funding would cover the “cost of increased service hours, fuel, maintenance, and other operational expenses,” the memo said.
The funding would require multiple requests to Calgary city council over the next decade, with the first expected during budget deliberations in November.
Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek said it’s important to improve transit reliability to help residents and visitors get around and that the city’s transit network “needs to get built out.”
“I think it’s really important to continue the investments in RouteAhead, that is the most equitable way for Calgarians to be able to get around our city,” Gondek said. “This council is incredibly committed to that.”
David Cooper, founder and principal of Leading Mobility, noted the anticipated jump in operating expenses is a “substantial increase,” and may spur a conversation about other mechanisms to fund transit besides property taxes and fare revenue.
“What drives people to transit is service and service is something that you have to find the funding tools and ability to pay for that,” Cooper told Global News. “This is a big city conversation that Calgary needs to have much sooner than we think with the growth that’s occurring across the city right now.”
The memo said Calgary’s population is anticipated to grow 14 per cent to reach 1,850,000 by 2035, and that ridership would grow 2.2 per cent annually without any investment service improvements and frequency.
Calgary Transit said its overall ridership has rebounded to more than 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, while ridership on the CTrain has fully recovered to levels recorded prior to the pandemic.
Transit officials also noted that the service recorded more than 11 million individual boardings on transit in August, up more than 30 per cent from the same time period last year.
However, Calgary Transit expects ridership to grow 38 per cent between 2024 and 2034 if the strategy is fully implemented.
“Calgary wants to be a city of investments and opportunity, you need to provide reliable mobility and a lot of it’s going to be on transit,” Cooper said. ” But they will not take it unless it’s a realistic option for them to take and for that you need service and a lot of it.”