Transit Dotmocracy

Last fall a few TransitCamp YYC volunteers decided to hold a transit-related event. This became the three-days of activities featuring Portland transit expert Jarrett Walker.

An early goal of our group was to engage more Calgarians in a positive and constructive discussion about improving transit in Calgary. We found that too often the discourse about transit in Calgary was negative (i.e. “why is my bus late?). This has led, in my view, to a perception amongst some public officials that public engagement must be managed to avoid becoming derailed with rider-specific issues  (i.e. “why is my bus late?).

TransitCamp YYC wanted to show that, given the opportunity and the tools, the public can provide valuable feedback on all aspects of our transit system. This includes relatively complicated topics such as capital/operational funding and transit governance.

So we did it. At our April 14 Better Transit in Calgary event TransitCamp YYC set up tables with information about transit funding, governance, route planning and customer experience. At each table, we asked participants to provide their feedback usually using sticky-dots (hence the term “dotmocracy”). These tables were staffed with TransitCamp YYC volunteers.

We previously posted the feedback that TransitCamp YYC received at our customer experience table. In this blog we’ll present the results from our funding and governance tables.

Transit Governance

Ryan Martinson prepared the information about the various public and private methods of administering transit systems (click on the image to view a larger PDF).

The participants at our event favoured a public-corporation model. At the moment, Calgary Transit is effectively a department of the City of Calgary.


We also received feedback that transit services should be managed as a public organization with some day-to-day operations possibly delivered by a private organization.

Transit Funding

At the transit funding table I presented the following information about capital and operational funding (click on the image to view a larger PDF). Most of this information comes from reports prepared by Calgary Transit and the City of Calgary.

There was wide agreement that Calgary Transit’s operational funding should be increased. Most participants believed that the 55% ratio of revenue to costs target for transit (mandated by City Council) is too high. To raise operational funds, the following options were most popular: (1) increased gas tax; (2) increased parking charges; (3) distance based fares; and (4) road tolls. Increasing gas taxes and parking charges received the support from the majority of participants.

There was also agreement that capital funding should be increased. Most felt that the 60% capital plan target for transit spending is too low (as a percentage of all transportation capital spending). Participants were surprisingly split between whether to focus new capital dollars on new LRT or BRT lines.

The most popular options to increase capital dollars for transit were: (1) increased gas tax; (2-tie) increased federal/provincial tax; (2-tie) increased sales tax; and (4) property tax levy. A majority of participants favoured a variety of capital funding mechanism from all three levels of government. The lion’s share of transit capital funding currently comes from provincial capital infrastructure grants.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section or on Facebook or Twitter. You can join TransitCamp YYC’s mailing list here. Be sure to also check out Route Ahead, Calgary Transit’s strategic plan.

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One thought on “Transit Dotmocracy

  1. It’s really nice to see that there is an overwhelming majority of people wanting better transit, not only in terms of infrastructure, but also in terms of service, and that they recognize the need for higher taxes to do it. One thing I noticed throughout these boards was that the city itself was probably doing enough, and that it’s time for the provincial and federal governments to step in. All these ideas are great and noble, it’s just a matter of convincing city managers and provincial and federal politicians that society as a whole is willing to pay for better transit and that the very loud naysayers of higher taxes don’t represent the majority. I think the potential (or certainty) of negative response scares descision makers away from the right decisions.

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