City proposes increasing Calgary Transit fares by 3% annually over next 4 years

A Calgary Transit CTrain fills up during rush hour on Sept. 14, 2022.  (Lucie Edwardson/CBC - image credit)
A Calgary Transit CTrain fills up during rush hour on Sept. 14, 2022. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC - image credit)

City administration proposed annual increases Tuesday of about three per cent for Calgary Transit fares in its four-year budget plan.

An adult monthly pass, now priced at $112, would cost $126 by 2026, if the plan is approved.

The proposal comes at a time when Calgary Transit is working to regain ridership following a severe decline during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as riders continue to express concerns over how safe or comfortable they feel while using transit.

"Every time they say they're going to do more security, it lasts about a week and then it's back to normal — people laying, sleeping on the seats, for one thing. Dirty concourses everywhere you go, just stuff like that," said daily transit commuter Steve MacMillan.

Single mom Amy Flight says she takes the train to work every day from 39th Avenue station and hasn't felt safe in years.

"I'm never able to even take my toddler into the train shelter because there's always quite a bit of debris from drug use in there. So the idea that they're going to increase the prices — I just don't understand why and how they could do that," she said.

"I already know some coworkers who won't go on the train because they don't feel safe. I have no choice. The only reason I'm still using it is I don't have a vehicle. But at a certain point, I think I'll just walk the hour to work rather than pay more."

In September, Calgary Transit said ridership was beginning to increase and was sitting at about 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, and the city was still running only three car trains instead of four.

In 2019, year-end projections put the total number of trips on the system at more than 106 million.

'Better reliability, safety'

Doug Morgan, general manager of operational services for the city, says the proposed increases will "come with many benefits" for Calgarians.

"It means better reliability, safety and accessibility of service," he said. "It means a better customer experience and passenger satisfaction by better amenities and cleaner service, lower greenhouse gas emissions from alternative fuels and an expansion in our four-car train service."

Morgan said the city is also focused on improving customer experience.

"We're continuing to focus on enhancing public safety to help curb social disorder on our system and continue to encourage more and more Calgarians to take transit," he said. "We want to make sure all Calgarians have access. This means investments in Calgary Transit, access for door-to-door service."

Morgan said that to meet these goals, administration is proposing significant investments in transit. That includes $26 million in service sustainment and improvements and a capital investment of over $137 million to replace the 25 remaining older LRT cars, as well as $225 million for 382 buses and 182 community shuttles.

"And as we purchase those new vehicles, we'll work with our partners in other levels of government to help fund our electrification of the Calgary Transit fleet," he said.

City council will make possible changes during a week-long debate, which starts Nov. 21. Calgarians can provide feedback on Nov. 22.

Riders concerned

Over the summer, hundreds of transit riders told CBC News they didn't feel safe on CTrains and at stations. In June, Calgary police reported crime on transit was 47 per cent higher than the three-year average.

Transit riders told CBC they witnesses ovedoses and people buying drugs on the train and at the stations on the regular, and they were worried for not only themselves and their families but also those using drugs.

The Calgary Fire Department tracks overdoses in the city, and heat maps show the vast majority happen along the train lines. They were called for suspected drug overdoses more than 2,000 times from January through May — and that's just the fire department.

Enforcement blitz

In the days leading up to Stampede in July, Calgary police performed their first system-wide blitz in which they tracked drug deals at the stations. Working with the undercover officers and Transit peace officers, uniformed police laid 86 criminal charges, mostly for drug trafficking.

Police did not lay charges for simple drug possession.

They also executed 327 warrants, served 216 summons, recovered three stolen bikes, interrupted a robbery in progress, reversed four overdoses and seized $30,000 worth of drugs (crack cocaine, fentanyl, methamphetamine, gabapentin, psilocybin and ketamine).

Police promised a major enforcement effort this fall and are expected to provide an update on that soon.