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Route Ahead capital costs are estimated at $755 million by 2034

Memo shows investment needed to get 10-minute transit service, 15 hours a day, seven days a week.

Capital costs for Calgary’s Route Ahead strategy are pegged at $755 million over the next 10 years, as the city hopes to implement more frequent transit service.

That information comes in a briefing note headed to the Infrastructure and Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday, where city councillors will learn what’s required to add 1.12 million additional transit hours to meet proposed 10-year targets.

Briefing notes are not discussed publicly, but they are on the public agenda.

The Route Ahead strategy was recently updated with a focus on building the Primary Transit Network, which will deliver more frequent transit service along a bolstered network. They’ve targeted service at 10-minute intervals or better, at least 15 hours a day, seven days a week.

To do this, Calgary Transit will have to purchase 540 net new buses, the briefing memo read. They’ll need at least two years, per purchasing tranche, for those to be delivered. They’ll also eventually need a new bus storage and maintenance facility.

“A new bus storage and maintenance facility is already planned to accommodate additional fleet by 2030; it is unfunded at an estimated cost of $350 million,” the briefing memo read. That would be funded in the next budget cycle, the memo read.

Ward 1 Coun. Sonya Sharp, who chairs the city’s Infrastructure and Planning Committee, said this was a necessary investment.

“You look at that and you’re like, ‘that’s a big amount,’ but it’s over 10 years,” she told LWC.

“It’s going to take that much time and that much money to get it right. You’re talking about better, quicker service.”

While this is the projected cost for transit upgrades, Sharp said this expenditure would ultimately need approval at budget time.

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer said city administration is showing them a road map to realizing the goals of the Route Ahead strategy.

“It was always going to be an expensive proposition but this makes the plan realistically achievable, especially if we catch the occasional tailwinds of funding injections from the province or feds,” he told LWC.

Not a one-time ask

The additional hours proposed by Calgary Transit would come gradually over 10 years, and in that time, would add 3.7 per cent annually in operating costs to that department’s budget, or between $4 million and $13 million each year. This is in addition to the capital costs.

City administration also said that they would look at a range of funding tools that could provide “stable capital and operating funding sources.”

“This includes options within The City’s control and those that require provincial approval,” the memo read.

“These funding tools are being considered as potential avenues to generate funding dedicated to advancing the RouteAhead Implementation Plan.”

Coun. Sharp said that if this $750 million was being sought over, say, the next two years, there would be more pointed questions to be asked. Since it’s over the next decades, it’s a much easier pill to swallow.

It’s coming at a time when transit is much needed, she said. Sharp said she recently observed Calgary Transit buses packed with high school students returning to school. The city has said that overall, Calgary Transit is also operating at or near pre-pandemic numbers. They further expect the city’s population to hit 1.8 million by the time this investment is complete.

“We’re trying to promote more transit in our city,” Sharp said.

“Let’s set the bar of having great transit so that everyone uses it.”

Calgary Transit estimates the added service will mean an additional 42.5 million trips annually.