News / Calgary

Calgary transit commuters up 1.8 per cent in 20 years

Coun. Shane Keating surprised results aren't lower given city's economic situation

In 20 years, Calgary has managed to bump up the number of citizens commuting to work using transit 1.8 per cent.

Jennifer Friesen / for Metro

In 20 years, Calgary has managed to bump up the number of citizens commuting to work using transit 1.8 per cent.

In 20 years, Calgary has managed to bump up the number of citizens commuting to work using transit 1.8 per cent – and it doesn't surprise anyone.

On Wednesday, Statistics Canada released their latest census findings of how Canadians are travelling to work, and for Calgary the news is underwhelming at best.

With a 1.8 per cent jump over a whopping 20 years, Calgary now sees 14.4 per cent of its population hopping on a train or bus instead of driving a car to get to the office, up from 12.6 per cent in 1996.

Nationally, 10.1 per cent of Canadians were commuting to work via transit in 1996 and in 2016 that number crept up to 12.4 per cent. Over the 20-year period, transit users have outpaced commuters with an increase of 59.5 per cent increase in transit riders compared to a rise of 30.3 percent in overall commuters over the same period.

Although Calgary is above the national transit ridership average, it still lags behind cities like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and even Ottawa-Gatineau. Edmonton, however, has the lowest number of transit commuters in Canada (phew).

Alex Barros, a University of Calgary Professor of Transportation Engineering, said the stats don't come as a surprise because the city continues to prioritize spending on road infrastructure instead of transit – oh, and we have a density problem.

"Why would we expect numbers to go up, because we don't really build the city for transit, we build it for the automobile," Barros said. "We have very low density in Calgary, and the same goes for Edmonton."

He said most Calgarians can afford to drive cars, and that they are relatively inexpensive compared to other countries. So, he said, the province invests in roads like the Ring Road, and these investments, mixed with the accessibility of cars, doesn't give the general population any incentive to shift from cars to transit.

Coun. Shane Keating said he's surprised there isn't a dip in Calgary's transit commuter numbers because of the economic downturn that's railed the system since 2015. He added that Calgary's seen tremendous population growth at a much quicker rate than other Canadian cities over the past 20 years, with transit and other infrastructure struggling to keep pace.

"In other cities, you may not have seen as much strain on public transit as you've seen here," Keating said. "In 2016, we saw a dramatic downturn in the economy and we saw the core and ridership starting to dip."

According to Calgary Transit's statistics, ridership has been dwindling since a peak in 2014, when the economy was still strong. Transit is still dealing with the lingering effects of a hollowed out core as out-of-work Calgarians aren't riding into the city-centre.

Keating said there's a shift now from a core-centric transit line to one that serves employment hubs that will dot the city. He said for the next 100 years the Green Line will continue to be a staple because during peak times in Calgary there's only so much road space, and without a reliable service there's no way to accommodate enough vehicles, autonomous or not, to move hundreds of thousands of Calgarians.

"If anything's really going to change public transit in any way shape or form, it's the ability over the next few decades for individuals to work offsite," Keating said.

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