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Calgary transportation recovery: 3 scenarios – all include a drop in transit use

Three COVID recovery transportation scenarios were created and all of them including less commuting downtown.

In an administration report to Calgary’s Transportation and Transit committee, it outlines the three scenarios – from rapid recovery to transformational change.

All the scenarios, to different degrees, mean transit use would slide overall, the report said. The transformational change, which envisions a prolonged, “multi-year, multi-wave” pandemic, would substantially increase remote work.

“Increased remote work would significantly reduce the demand for transit into the downtown core, impacting transit revenues and potentially the ability to provide other cross-town and community-based services,” the report read.

That level anticipated remote work three-plus days a week, with a 40 per cent reduction in peak commuting to downtown Calgary.

Even the increased crisis, which looked at a severe second wave, predicted remote work at least one day a week for most. Again, it looked at a 40 per cent reduction in peak commuting to downtown Calgary. The rapid recovery crisis still saw a decline in auto traffic downtown by 15 to 20 per cent, and transit peak hour travel down by 30 per cent.

“The scenarios are not projections or forecasts,” the city report read.

“Instead they reflect a range of plausible futures. Real-world conditions will include a mix of factors from one or more scenarios.”

Flexibility required, says Coun. Davison

During the peak of the pandemic, transit use was down nearly 90 per cent. Transit was bleeding cash.

Coun. Jeff Davison, chair of the city’s transportation and transit committee said no matter the scenario, Calgary will have to be nimble in its approach to commuting.

“How do we look at ensuring that as we continue to build a transit network, for instance, that we’re able to quickly react to changing situations,” he said.

He pointed to the on-demand bus response in Strathcona in his Ward 6. The city responded to a drop in demand by adjusting bus service. He said identifying and implementing solutions like that is key.

“It increases your customer satisfaction, it is more a la carte, if you will, but the best thing about it is it actually cuts down on cost to the city, because we don’t have to run buses in places that we don’t need to run our buses.”

The future of public transit

Each of these scenarios play out substantial drop in transit use – a heavily-subsidized business unit.

When asked if he expected a general migration away from public transit, Coun. Davison was unsure.

“I think that’s the million dollar question, right? The short answer is that we don’t know,” he said.

“We have to figure out what the new normal looks like. What do people’s work habits become?

That’s where he said more customization of transit will come into play.

What about the Green Line? Do we need to revisit a $5 billion project?

Davison said it was a big topic of conversation in July. He said they need different options across the city.

“The LRTs, the best thing about them is they’re fixed transit lines,” he said.

“They’re more habit driven, people tend to take trains.”

The key is to re-examine the busing routes and the network around the stations to drive more people to take the trains. Make them customized, flexible, he said.

Davison said downtowns will always be the centre of a city’s business. But, they have different business parks along the new Green Line corridor and along the Red and Blue Lines.

“How you can iterate and make the best use of a network to get them to a main line, and then utilize your main line to get them to those key places that people want to go,” Davison said.

City administration came up with 15 recommendations to help prepare for any changes to the city’s transportation network.

Those included improving data and analytics to respond in real time to transportation changes. It also suggested a curbside management strategy, planning for reduced funding and looking at other revenue generation.

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