A strategic update to a plan that will guide Calgary Transit for the next 30 years will include greater focus on the frequency of buses and trains over route coverage.
The updates to the RouteAhead plan were heard by the city’s infrastructure and planning committee on Thursday.
According to accompanying documents, the updated plan will “chart a new course” for Calgary Transit by shifting its focus to “building a frequent transit network that makes travel easier.”
The update to the strategy is part of a scheduled 10-year review that includes 22 changes to the plan.
Among the most notable changes is a planned shift to a frequency-oriented network rather than a coverage-oriented network.
The focus on frequency means some Calgary Transit riders would have to travel further to a bus stop, but the service would come more often, city documents said.
Transit officials said the increased frequency will be prioritized in areas where data shows higher ridership, based on direction from a committee tasked with advising the strategy update.
Ward 3 Coun. Jasmine Mian sat on that advisory committee and said frequency of service is the “No. 1 thing” councillors heard about from riders in the engagement on the strategic update.
“Because we’re such a big city, we have to make certain tradeoffs in how we can deliver that frequency, and that’s really what RouteAhead is starting to contemplate,” Mian told reporters.
According to transit officials, the increased frequency will move toward implementing what’s called the Primary Transit Network (PTN), a series of routes where trains and buses arrive every 10 to 15 minutes, 15 hours per day, seven days per week.
Out of approximately 150 bus routes around the city, around 30 have been identified to be part of the PTN, transit officials said.
Committee heard the changes will help create a faster, more frequent and reliable transit network.
“When you spread the peanut butter over the slice of toast, that’s what you’re doing when you’re trying to get coverage,” acting transit planning co-ordinator Jordan Zukowski told committee.
“We heard from folks during this engagement process and we heard from folks during budget that they want to see frequency, and it’s frequency that leads people to actually choose transit and make transit a viable transportation option.”
David Cooper, a former senior planner with Calgary Transit who now runs Leading Mobility Consulting, told Global News high-frequency transit networks are being implemented in cities like Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax.
“You may have to walk a little bit more, but you have more of a turn-up-and-go type service. And this is something we’ve seen in cities across Canada,” Cooper said. “If you look at ridership recovery across Canada, high-frequency networks are what’s bringing people back to transit.”
However, some councillors had concerns with the strategic change away from coverage.
Ward 13 Coun. Dan McLean told reporters that while he feels frequency is important, he is concerned with how reducing coverage would impact suburban residential routes.
Calgary Transit announced a realignment to several south Calgary bus routes that are coming into effect on Dec. 19.
“In Millrise, there’s a couple of seniors centres where they’ve cut back, a couple of blocks only, to make the routes a little bit quicker,” McLean said. “But now I’m concerned about those seniors that now have a couple block walk to the nearest transit station.”
Committee narrowly voted 6-5 in favour of the proposed changes to the strategy, sending them to city council for final say.
Councillors Andre Chabot, Peter Demong, Dan McLean, Sonya Sharp and Jennifer Wyness voted against the changes.
According to Sharp, there was a lot of confusion among councillors about how a prioritized focus on frequency would impact riders, and she wasn’t comfortable voting in favour.
Sharp said that confusion would impede councillors to outline the potential changes to transit riders in their wards.
“As soon as things start changing in their world where they have to walk further and spend 20 minutes just to walk there to get to a bus, which might not be there for 10 minutes… They’re the ones that are going to reach out to our offices and complain,” Sharp said.
“So we need to make sure it’s not about the process or service, it’s about the rider.”
While people may have to walk further to get a bus or a train under the proposed changes, transit officials said there are community-specific connections included in the plan to improve accessibility to transit stops and stations.
“We’re going to have to make it a lot more easy for more people to live even closer to train stations,” Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra told committee.
The updates to the RouteAhead strategy also included a list of prioritized future transit projects based on a set of criteria that include ridership, rider experience, social, economic and environmental factors.
The Max 301 North and the 52nd Street East Bus-Rapid-Transit Line scored the highest, with the north leg of the Green Line rounding out the top three projects.
Cooper said the 52nd Street BRT Line has the potential to result in significant transformation of the area.
“If we look at ridership recovery from across the city, that particular area had a lot of consistent ridership through the (COVID-19) pandemic,” Cooper said. “It’s a highly sought-after area for logistics, supply chain — a whole suite of different types of service and industrial types of employment that require additional transit service in an area that is also a bit hard to serve.”
The key proposed changes will go to city council for final strategic direction before the entire updated RouteAhead strategy is finished next spring.