Mind the gap

Earlier this week, the City of Calgary released the proposed draft of the 2015-2018 Action Plan (known in the world outside City Hall as a “budget”). The top priority in the public engagement process for the Action Plan was… transit. Which makes the coming cuts to transit even more shocking.

Route Ahead vs 2015-18 action plan

One of the most basic ways to measure what a transit operator is providing is in service hours per capita; that is, how many hours are buses and trains available for their customers. There are a lot of ways more service hours can provide better service – more frequent trips, longer service hours, more routes and destinations served – but that service time is providing a benefit for someone. The relationship between service hours and transit use couldn’t be more clear; below is a figure showing service hours per capita versus transit trips per capita for the 60 largest US urban areas, from the 2012 APTA statistical report. (New York City is an outlier and not shown on the figure, just imagine the chart continuing up and to the right off your screen.)

Ridership vs service hours, top 50 uza 2012

Thousands of citizens were consulted to produce RouteAhead, a long range plan for transit in Calgary. It was adopted by Council in March 2013, less than two years ago. One of the most important – but least glamorous – aspects was the increase in service hours per capita, up to 2.6 service hours per capita by 2020. What has happened so far is already a shortfall from where we need to be to achieve this modest short-term goal. By the end of the 2015-2018 Action Plan, we are poised to have a 10% gap between the service hours Calgary Transit has pledged to produce, and the service hours Council has funded. Day-to-day service isn’t sexy; there are no ribbons to cut, no speeches to make, but it’s the bread and butter of a transit agency. Here’s that gap again:

Route Ahead vs 2015-18 action plan

One of the reasons you develop a long term plan is so you can adjust your short term behaviour. We are already headed in the wrong direction in funding transit operations. If this budget passes as proposed, the RouteAhead plan will have spent more time being prepared than it will have being followed. That’s not acceptable for a plan that’s supposed to guide our city for 30 years, and that’s not acceptable for the public’s number one priority.