Night Transit, part II

In the previous post, I described the essential nature of night transit, a service bridging the late night hours roughly between 1 and 5 AM when transit service currently stops. The key principles are:

  • Limited routes providing broad coverage; a skeletal system reinforcing the major transit corridors designed to broadly serve the city, while admitting that some walk distances will be further.
  • Basic schedule; longer headways, such as 30 minutes, to keep costs down.
  • Time-coordinated schedule; buses converge on “pulse points” at specific times so that one can transfer between many routes given the limited frequency.
  • Bus operations; limiting costs and preserving the overnight window for rail maintenance.

What might that look like in Calgary?

There would be a single night transit hub in a central location where the routes depart from; the two obvious possibilities are either downtown or 17th Avenue. While 17th Avenue is the strongest nightlife district in Calgary, a downtown hub fits with the existing focus of our transit system. A downtown hub is also a little aspirational – Stephen Avenue has an increasingly strong entertainment scene, and we are now seeing substantial redevelopment in nearby areas such as the East Village and the Eau Claire Market. A central hub would also be a point for a concentration of security, preventing problem riders from causing a nuisance.

The first key routes would roughly follow the LRT system, the obvious skeleton of transit in Calgary. Instead of two routes running through downtown the way the C-Train operates, the night routes would converge on the hub, and then head back to their suburban destinations. The other corridor with “primary transit service” levels (10 minute headways, 15 hours a day) is the Centre Street corridor, which is an obvious choice for night service. While in principle, these routes would follow their daytime counterparts, some small modifications may be beneficial – it may be advantageous for the south or west routes to provide a detour along 17th Avenue, for instance, or for the south route to drive straight along Macleod Trail, rather than detour out of the way to the LRT stations. Shown below, this limited set of five bus routes would be within 1500m (roughly a 20 minute walk) of 46% of all Calgarians, and 51% of 20-34 year olds.

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A somewhat more expansive service would provide additional key connections: east and west routes along the #1 bus corridor providing service from Forest Lawn to Bowness (with a potential detour to serve the Foothills Hospital); a southwest route serving Bankview, Marda Loop, Mount Royal University and Westhills; a route servicing the southeast down to the new South Health Campus.The nine route system outlined here and shown below would put 61% of Calgarians (and 66% of 20-34 year olds) within 1500m of a bus route. This is a good start; eventually, more routes could be added supporting the planned high quality BRT/transitway routes, and providing additional connections. While it is more difficult to maintain connections to crosstown routes outside of the downtown, it would not be impossible – especially given the limited set of routes.

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Night service is a tried-and-true best practice for transit agencies, and is not even new to Alberta. Edmonton tried a single night bus as a pilot in 2012. Despite the limited duration and scope of the pilot, preventing the service from growing to find its true ridership, the pilot was hailed as a success, with no substantial behavioural problems from the riders, and sufficient ridership to meet the route’s predetermined goals – overall, the initial ridership goal was exceeded by over 30%. The only thing the pilot in Edmonton was lacking was the political leadership to continue funding. Calgary can learn from their positive experience, and deliver the 24-hour transit service that will continue building a transit culture in our growing city.

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