Ridership Goals for Calgary Transit

Any visionary plan should have a goal, and Route Ahead is no different. With out measurable goals, we have no way of knowing how well the plan is working. The previous goal was to have 50% of downtown workers using transit. That goal was exceeded already in 2012, when the percentage of downtown workers using transit reached 51%.

At Transitcamp, we want Calgary Transit to pursue aggressive goals for increasing transit use in the city. While there are many goals Calgary Transit should pursue internally (such as costs per revenue hour, fare recovery, etc) we think the main focus should be the percentage of people using transit for their commute. Although the methodology isn’t perfect, the Civic Census started collecting data on the mode of transportation to work in 2011, and plans to do so every three years. In 2011, the percentage of Calgarians using transit to get to work was 17%. We think we can do better. But how much better we can realistically do is another question.

Let’s compare Calgary to some other cities in Canada, Australia and the US in terms of transit ridership (Canadian and Australian numbers are from their 2006 census, the US from the 2000 census. Note Calgary had 16% transit use in 2006 according to these numbers). Calgary follows a similar trend among Canadian cities to generally outperform American cities in terms of transit ridership, as shown by comparing to similar sized US cities (from 750 000 to 2.5 million):

  • Columbus (1.5M)= 2.2%
  • Las Vegas (1.6M)= 4.1%
  • Milwaukee (1.7M)= 4%
  • New Orleans (1.3M)= 5.4%
  • Sacramento (1.8M)= 2.7%
  • San Antonio (1.6M)= 2.8%
  • Orlando (1.6M)= 1.6%
  • Portland (2.3M)= 6.0%

As can be seen above, comparing to US cities isn’t a good benchmark, mostly because US cities (outside of New York and a few select very large cities) have such dismal transit ridership. However, comparing to Australian and Canadian cities is a bit more fair, and paints of better picture of how Calgary compares to these cities:

  • Adelaide (1.1M)= 10%
  • Brisbane (1.8M)= 14%
  • Calgary (1.1M)= 16%
  • Edmonton (1M)= 10%
  • Melbourne (3.6M)= 14%
  • Montreal (3.6M)= 21%
  • Ottawa (850K)= 21%
  • Perth (1.4M)= 10%
  • Sydney (4.1M)= 21%
  • Toronto (5.1M)= 22%
  • Vancouver (2.1M)= 17%
  • Winnipeg (700K)= 13%

Calgary does fairly well compared to similar sized cities, such as Adelaide, Perth, Edmonton and Ottawa. However, we think we can do better. In fact, we think Calgary can have among the highest transit ridership in North America and Australia.

So what goal should we set for Calgary Transit? We think Calgary can achieve 25% transit ridership by 2025. This is slightly better than Toronto or Montreal currently, but not impossible given the time line (plus it has a nice ring to it).

What do you think? What goals should Route Ahead set for Calgary Transit in the long term?

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10 thoughts on “Ridership Goals for Calgary Transit

      • We also need some consideration to coverage area . For example, there is little transit service in new developments such as new brighton. Would a heavy focus on commuting prevent any service expansion to new communities? The non commuter portion of transit ridership needs a different metric. (side note: current policy is that there is no access Calgary service to new communities until there is a fixed route service. which was a big surprise to some homeowners that built their new wheelchair accessible home)

    • Perhaps not as lofty as one would think, considering the ever-increasing cost of driving a private vehicle (petroleum costs, over the long term, are doomed to rise) & inevitable road congestion that will result from population growth. (Better transit-priority such as bus que-jumps at lights / dedicated ROW & HOV lanes / etc all give transit an advantage here)

      That being said, improved transit service to employment centres other than downtown is key for cummuter growth. Approximately the same number of people work in SE Industrial Areas as downtown, & much of the road network in Foothills Industrial is grid. There is also a social advantage to providing improved access to the types of jobs that are offered there. Hopefully, as crosstown/express corridors such as 52st are developed & the network within these areas is structured around it (& improved accordingly), ridership will increase substantually.

  1. In response to my question (with the link to this post), “What do you think? Can Calgary get to 25% commuter transit ridership by 2025? Is that a good goal?”
    A Facebook friend said, “Possibly, if they can extend ridership into the newer districts. More frequent trains and bus service. People might realize it would less hassle to drive if the service is similar to European standard. Clean, frequent, affordable and fast!”

  2. And someone on Twitter said they don’t see it happening when people are being dinged twice (paying for the bus pass & parking). I asked if he would be more likely to commute on transit if connector buses were improved and/or if the parking fees were rolled into the bus pass (possibly paying more than a bus pass, but less than both seperately).

    He seemed to like the idea of having one pass which includes transit and parking. Wasn’t too keen on the bus no matter what as he is #busaphobic (joking, but some truth in that I think for a lot of people).

    • You have to wonder how much of an impact on busaphobia (many people I know love LRT & will never ride a bus) it would have if the quality of the ride was improved, via better suspension systems on the busses, driver training revised/expanded to focus on ride quality (less jerky, avoid quick accelleration & slamming on brakes, take corners slower/smoother/etc), higher road surface standards (quality of pavement & maintinance) on major bus routes, etc.

      In respect to the busses, 40ft & 60ft transit busses are already quite pricey (over half a million from what my brief & far-from-complete google research shows) – perhaps spending 10-15% more to order smoother-riding busses could very well pay for itself at the fair box if it helps increase ridership…?

  3. What is the rational for determining the 25% goal? Do you have plan to achieve that goal? Are there strategies? I am thinking it ia ambitious with no major funding in place for increased capacity. It took decades to get West LRT built central and SE LRT could be decades away and not all users would be new just change from bus to lrt. Calgary has larger percentage of young families than most cities which make transit less practical for commuting An increase to 25% is actually 50% increase from today. Need to set realistic goals.

    • Thanks for the comment Richard.

      The 25% goal was a bit ambitious for sure. The benchmark was the transit ridership in Toronto or Vancouver, which are both around 22%. Calgary does have the advantage of an incredibly concentrated downtown to boost ridership among that demographic (currently it is 50% of downtown workers), as well as other fairly concentrated employment centres, such as the UofC/Foothills/ACH area. Toronto, despite having a very large downtown, in fact has a lot of employment in “suburban” office parks, which are harder to serve by transit. So, we believe that in the next ten years, Calgary can position itself as the best “transit city” in Canada.

      While funding for major LRT expansion may be unsure for some time, there are many improvements that can increase ridership that are not capital intensive. For example, adding a limited stop bus from Rundle/Peter Lougheed to Foothills Hospital/UofC/ACH via 16th avenue has the potential to draw a lot of new riders, such residents in the NE working at the Foothills or Alberta Children’s Hospital, SAIT or the UofC, or residents living in the NW working at Peter Lougheed Centre. The capital cost of this service is minimal at best.

      Similarly, current high ridership routes can be “upgraded” to limited stop service, which can increase ridership while decreasing operational costs. Our suggestion to implement a limited stop service on the southern portion of the #3 route (Elbow Drive) is being considered by Calgary transit.

      Finally, young families are great potential customers for transit. Having children doesn’t exclude one from using transit to get to work, nor does it preclude someone from having a car for other types of trips. Taking transit does, however, reduce the need for a 2nd car. In fact, Calgary Transit’s unusual success comes from getting a large amount suburban workers with families to take the C-Train. My brother, for example, has 3 young children, but he takes the bus to work. By using transit, they save money on a 2nd car.

      We always appreciate the thoughts.

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