22 February 2010

City Council Set to Party Like It's 1976

That clackety sound you’re hearing at City Hall comes from the dominoes tumbling in council chambers. The trouble with dominoes is that even when they do fall in the intricate patterns their creators imagine, they leave a spectacular mess for the morning after.

It started a couple of weeks ago, when Ward 11 Alderman Brian Pincott sold everyone on City Council on the concept of a new bus rapid transit study for his southwest constituents. Then last Thursday, Ward 13 Alderman Diane Colley-Urquhart leapt onto the bandwagon with a City Council motion of her own, calling for more bus rapid transit routes across Calgary. More buses on the roads mean more Calgarians out of their cars, which means local politicians finally following through on their pro-transit rhetoric, right?

Yet nothing so abhors a vacuum as hot air. Politicians love discussing bus rapid transit because it strikes the right notes about quickness and movement while disguising the nebulous cuddly-with-lots-of-firepower nature of their understanding. The three routes Calgary Transit promotes as bus rapid transit are really modernised Blue Arrow 2.0 limited-stop services, which differ from their downtown-suburban express routes, which differ again from the busways and Plexiglas monuments of Curitiba and Ottawa. There’s faint hope of knowing what you’re getting when the politicians don’t.

Now if you’re thinking that someone at the city must have examined this bus rapid transit idea before, you’d be right. Back in 1976, planners took a long, hard look at whether the original Blue Arrow buses from the early Seventies could be upgraded to rapid transit standards. They found it would take too many buses, too much fuel, too much labour, and too much room on roadways that would still be too congested anyway. That’s why Calgary invested in the C-Train light rail system.

The realities planners identified over thirty years ago are, if anything, even more acute in 2010. Sixty-foot bendy buses look like a bargain until it hits home that you have to buy three of them over the lifespan of one C-Train car to carry half the passenger load. Diesel isn’t getting any cheaper. Transit drivers and mechanics still expect to be paid. And you probably don’t believe that your new dedicated median busways will be expropriated, built, and paved for free by the Tarmac Fairy.

Effective bus service will still be a necessary part of an integrated public transit system in Calgary. Buses play an important role in drawing passengers to suburban C-Train stations. Several cross-town bus routes serve their riders well for short trips and long hauls. Express routes provide a valuable service for outlying commuters who need rush-hour alternatives to the car for getting downtown. Even the Blue Arrow 2.0 runs have had the stated objective since 2002 of building long-term demand and local support for C-Train service.

But any alderman who tells you bus rapid transit is just like light rail but cheaper is taking your wallet for a ride. Times may be tough, but City Council is about to let sticker shock and blind panic overwhelm common sense. Light rail transit is a significant capital investment that bears long-term dividends in the form of operating costs that are one-sixth the price per passenger of offering bus service. Spending that kind of capital on buses instead just chases good money after bad.

We’ve known for over three decades that the C-Train delivers strategic public transportation value in Calgary that buses simply do not. The members of City Council have a duty this afternoon to come to their senses, and to take heed of this knowledge.

19 November 2009

Happy New Year, and More Exact Change, Please

It wouldn’t be wise, especially given how easily The Fishwrap’s city beat reporter got Franked a couple of weeks ago, to suggest that the reaction to this morning’s story about Calgary Transit’s fare hikes for 2010 stems entirely from the shut-ins and sociopaths who so enjoy frothing at the mouth in online media comment boxes.

In the broader context, though, the optics of increasing transit fares in the face of a tentative economic recovery are not good. Cash fares are poised to rise $0.25 to $2.75, tickets in ten-pack booklets are slated to rise by a dime to $2.40, and monthly passes are expected to cost $2.25 more a piece at $85.25. When the prices of C-Train tickets, property taxes, power bills, and for that matter bread and butter are all going up, and pay packets are not, Calgarians are naturally going to feel squeezed, threatened, and taken for granted. Also, the pressure on Calgary City Council to deliver a balanced municipal budget for 2010 later this month with as modest an increase in mill rates as possible under the circumstances suggests that service hours on already-underutilised feeder bus routes will be the first item on the chopping block; the effects of the ensuing vicious circle I will leave to my Gentle Readers to determine. One readily appreciates the sense suburban transit patrons would thus experience of being kicked where the hair is short.

Let’s try to put things into perspective, however, and show a little pity for the good burghers of Toronto. (Please. Try. Just a little.)

The Toronto Transit Commission, an entity with its own reasons for giving people cause to complain, approved its own round of fare increases for 2010 a couple of days ago. Red Rocketeers will pay $0.25 more for cash fares at $3.00, $0.25 more for a charmingly quaint metal token at $2.50, and a sobering $12.00 more for a monthly Metropass at $121.00. Now while the TTC imposes a more substantial burden on its patrons to keep the lights on and the trains, at least most of the time, running — farebox revenues cover about 68 percent of TTC operating costs, compared to about 55 percent on a good day for Calgary Transit — the scale of the fare increases Hogtowners are facing very much calls the value proposition of The Better Way™ into question. It also casts some light on the deal Cowtowners get for public transit, or at least for the C-Train and for higher-demand trunk routes, based on what we’re begrudgingly willing to pay at the farebox.

Here are the two systems’ 2010 fare increases head to head:

Calgary Transit:
Cash Fare: $2.50 in 2009, $2.75 in 2010; increase of 10.00%
Ticket Fare: $2.30 in 2009, $2.40 in 2010; increase of 4.35%
Pass Fare: $83.00 in 2009, $85.25 in 2010; increase of 2.71%
Pass/Ticket Multiple: 36.09 in 2009, 35.52 in 2010; decrease of 1.58%
Pass/Cash Multiple: 33.20 in 2009, 31.00 in 2010; decrease of 6.63%

Toronto Transit Commission:
Cash Fare: $2.75 in 2009, $3.00 in 2010; increase of 9.09%
Token Fare: $2.25 in 2009, $2.50 in 2010; increase of 11.11%
Pass Fare: $109.00 in 2009, $121.00 in 2010; increase of 11.01%
Pass/Token Multiple: 48.44 in 2009, 48.40 in 2010; decrease of 0.08%
Pass/Cash Multiple: 39.64 in 2009, 40.63 in 2010; increase of 1.74%

One point we need to compare here between Calgary and Toronto is the annual increase in price of each fare medium. The TTC wins the showdown on cash fares, rising 9.09% in contrast to the 10.00% increase Calgary Transit will see. Where tickets, tokens, and monthly passes are concerned, though, Calgarians are getting a break that their counterparts in Toronto are not. The price of a Calgary Transit ticket in a ten-unit booklet is set to rise 4.35%, while a TTC token, usually sold in units of four, will increase by 11.11%. The price increase of a Calgary Transit pass works out to 2.71%, which is in stark contrast to the 11.01% jump in the price of a TTC Metropass. These numbers imply a much stronger incentive for Calgary Transit passengers to buy ticket books or monthly passes instead of paying cash at the farebox than Red Rocketeers would have.

The other figures worth mentioning are the multiples, which quantify how many fares one would have to pay at the box to cover the cost of a monthly pass. For the TTC, the Pass/Token Multiple stays almost the same, sliding an infinitesimal amount in 2010 from 48.44 to 48.40, meaning that one would have to buy just over four dozen TTC tokens at the bulk rate of $2.50 to cover the $121.00 cost of a 2010 Metropass; perversely, the Pass/Cash Multiple rises slightly in 2010 from 39.64 to 40.63, meaning that even with the increase in cash fares to $3.00, one has to pay one more cash fare in 2010 than in 2009 to cover the price of a Metropass in Toronto. On Calgary Transit, meanwhile, the Pass/Ticket Multiple drops slightly in 2010 from 36.09 to 35.52, and the Pass/Cash Multiple dips significantly in 2010 from 33.20 to 31.00, so that a monthly Calgary Transit pass saves about half a ticket or two cash fares more in 2010 than it does in 2009. What these numbers mean to my Gentle Readers is that Calgary Transit is nudging its passengers in favour of ticket books and monthly passes by way of making the best of the bad situation hiking cash fares by a quarter represents, whereas the Toronto Transit Commission is sharing out the fare-hike misery more or less equally.

Do these figures indicate the superiority of Calgary Transit over the TTC? Not by a long shot, as anyone trying to get across town from deepest, darkest Douglasdale on evenings and weekends would attest. There’s a lot of hard work to be done over the next several weeks, months, and years to do transit right in this town, but for what Calgarians are paying at the farebox for our C-Train, trunk route, and feeder bus service, we could be doing much worse.

14 October 2009

The turn in the weather over the past few days has made the footing treacherous and the going slow for man, beast, and automobile alike here in Calgary. It also brought to mind a photograph an enterprising Ottawa resident contributed to cyberspatial posterity last winter, and one that seemed appropriate to share through the magic of diydespair.com:

03 July 2009

So Much for Stoney Trail

With the recent news of the failed referendum on the southwest extension of Stoney Trail, the discussion of completing Calgary's ring road -- at least that part of the discussion not given over to dark, conspiratorial mutterings -- is turning to potential options for Plan B, involving some sort of grade-separated expressway link across the Elbow River through the Weaselhead Flats and the Glenmore Reservoir. The illustration below hints at the scope of the problem:
This is what a partial cloverleaf interchange at 66 Avenue SW and a southward extension of Crowchild Trail would look like. I leave it as an exercise for my Gentle Readers to compute the chances for the poor souls at ABDoT and the City of Calgary to convince sixty-odd residential landholders in the leafy, bucolic suburban environment of Lakeview, along with the owners of the Earl Grey Golf and Country Club, that a thousand metres of newly-planned expressway would be just the ticket to serve the greater good and to ensure the safe and efficient movement of freight traffic throughout the city.

03 May 2009

Edmonton Trail Transit Service Radii

This diagram could use a little explanation.

What I wanted to do was see for myself whether a 504 Edmonton Trail Car would be crowded out or made redundant by previous proposals for light metro C-Train service through north-central Calgary. My hypothesis was that a tram serving more stops more slowly would attract more riders to stops within a 400-metre service radius than to light metro stations (serving fewer stations less slowly, natch) within a 600-metre service radius. To illustrate the conditions on the ground for this hypothesis, however, I needed to draw myself a picture. Thus the product of the magic of Microsoft Paint before your slavering fangs right now:

Line 203 of the C-Train (north to southeast) is the line in green, with smaller blue circles illustrating 400-metre radii from stations and larger, fainter blue circles illustrating 600-metre radii. Line 204 of the C-Train (the orbital line) is the line in orange, with smaller orange circles illustrating 400-metre radii from stations and larger, fainter orange circles illustrating 600-metre radii. The 504 Edmonton Trail Car, in contrast, is the line in red, with smaller yellow circles illustrating 400-metre radii from stops.

UPPITY DATE: I've run some calculations that show a target ridership for the 504 Car in the range of 2,219 to 3,573 daily passengers per mile. The most recent APTA numbers for the C-Train, in contrast, show 10,663 daily passengers per mile.

29 April 2009

Garrison Square Turning Radii

This quick-'n'-dirty diagram shows potential vehicle turning radii at Garrison Square SW, the central gathering and amenity point in Calgary's inner-suburban Garrison Woods development. The white circles each represent a turning radius of 25 metres, while the yellow "yolks" each represent a turning radius of 18 metres.
That these figures represent the standard and compressed turning radii of a Siemens Transportation Systems S70 Avanto is not entirely coincidental.