Calgary Transit misses the boat

Recently we’ve all been forced to contemplate more than just our navels. We’ve been forced to evaluate mass transit as a service, as a system and as an ideology.

Calgary Tran-sit’s newly implemented "Weekday Rider, Weekend Driver" program assumes that the vast majority of C-Train riders are rich folk and everyone taking the bus day in and day out dreams nightly of having their very own Sunfire or Malibu. By offering discounts on weekend car rentals to Adult monthly pass holders, the folks at Calgary Transit are making the dreams of the masses come true by undermining one of the fundamental principles of their service.

The now infamous transit strike of 2001 left many scrambling for a means of transportation. Students were among the most affected, seeing as how they are not the weal-thiest of social groups. There were those who walked, those who rode their bikes and those who car-pooled. Most were fortunate enough to happen upon the kindness of friends or friendly acquaintances and all survived. However, not all survived unchanged.

The situation led public transit patrons to examine why it is they use mass transit. It’s generally not for convenience (how convenient is Calgary Transit?), nor is it always a result of limited finances. Many simply see it as the responsible choice in the face of global warming and ozone depletion and as an environmentally motivated moral decision.

Apparently the powers that be at Calgary Transit haven’t reached the same conclusion. However, their assumption that riders would drive if they could fails to take history into consideration.

Since 1970, mass transit use by citizens increased dramatically. What could have motivated such an upswing? It was not an increase in suburban living that brought about this change, nor was it a decrease in average income. It was the result of increased environmental awareness. In the 1970s the impact of cars on the immediate environment and the greater global ecosystem came to the fore of public consciousness. One reaction of the concerned masses was to limit their car usage. Mass transit usage increased in major centers as did the development of cleaner, quicker and more efficient methods of moving large numbers of people.

It wasn’t only individuals that responded either: some municipalities were quick to follow the lead. Edmonton’s municipal government chose to address their commuter concerns while saving money by expanding their existing LRT routes by over 7km at a cost of $65 million rather than build five new freeways at 10 times the price. Not just a cost-cutting venture, the expansion encouraged the citizens of Edmonton to use mass transit. It was a responsible decision made by Edmonton’s municipal government, addressing today’s problems while keeping an eye on the future.

Fresh off a strike, Calgary Transit needs to regain riders. Like any business they need to rebuild consumer confidence and begin turning a profit. Rather than trying to recapture their once loyal patrons, they instead come up with gimmicks, bargains and flashy new campaigns to draw people in. They ignore the ideology that fuels their existence, opting to fuel the appetites of combustible-craving Calgarians instead.

"Buy our pass and get a car!"

What’s next? A dollar off a Grande Latte with every used ticket and a half-price Big Mac every time you produce a transfer?

Lawrence Bailey can be reached at

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