Well boys and girls, let me tell you a story. The City of Calgary, a place full of cowboy hats, wranglers and on clear days a beautiful view of the mountains also had a fairly successful public transit system. Thousands of people would take both the LRT and busses to get them to their shopping, jobs or schools. The system was not fool proof or weather proof, but it wasn’t horrible.
You know what happened next boys and girls? The Calgary City Council decided that it would be a good idea to charge LRT passengers a $3 daily fee to park their cars in the LRT parking lots. This fee was to be in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Why would they do this? The council decided that this was the only way to ensure the safety of the vehicles and passengers, the only way to pay for the increased security that was needed.
The city of Edmonton is a similar city. There are still wranglers and some cowboy hats, but definitely more liberal and artsy fartsy people and no mountain view whether the sky is cloudy or not. A park and ride fee was suggested to the Edmonton City council, but for some reason, this council saw the extra fee as unnecessary or just a bad idea overall.
So, the city of Calgary decided to charge LRT riders, who tend to be lower income than people who drive to work or school everyday, another fee.
Picture if you will a couple. They each take the train to and from work, but because they work slightly different hours due to children or other commitments, they each drive to the LRT. Each person buys a monthly transit pass for $85 (2010 monthly transit fee) for a total of $170 per month. The couple feels that this a still a good bargain as parking downtown starts at approximately $200 for a parking pass and of course parking gets much more expensive from there.
Now the park and ride fee has been instituted. If the couple each continue to park at the lots, the cost is approximately $60 a month per car. If they both drive that’s $120 plus the $170, for a total of $290. For that cost jump, the couple is likely to consider changing their working hours so that they can both drive downtown. If they drive, they don’t have to squeeze in with people who have questionable hygiene standards, they are not being coughed on, they get to sit and listen to music and have conversations together. Even if the couple looked at taking one car to the LRT station, they are still looking at $230 a month, which will still likely lead the couple to make the choice to drive downtown.
Let’s take a moment to consider why a city might place funding into its public transit systems. The first one is likely to ease traffic congestion on the roads due to single occupancy commuters, a second might be the environmental impact of taking vehicles off of the road, and a third reason might be to help people get to their work or school in the most economical way possible. Why many people may not even have a vehicle and the train may be their main transportation means.
OK, like I said, the city of Calgary instituted the $3/day park and ride fee. The machines were unreliable, their cell phone call system didn’t always work and people would get tickets despite having paid their $3 fee yet the city said these were growing pains and that things would work out eventually. Councillors would bring this subject up time and time again, but it was decided that the fee would stand. After all, it cost a lot of money to bring in the machines the collect payment and the cars that would drive around the city taking pictures of license plates and digitally handing out tickets.
The people of Calgary changed their transit behaviours. Many people stopped taking public transit because it was no longer the most economical means for getting around. The City of Calgary denied that there was a significant drop, but people who take the LRT every day knew and saw that there was indeed a change happening. Some continued to drive to LRT stations, but started parking blocks away in residential neighborhoods, in mall parking lots and anywhere else that they could park for free. This just inconvenienced people who were trying to park near their homes, or customers trying to get into shops.
All the while, the city of Edmonton continued on, forgetting about the park and ride fee suggestions as if nothing had changed. A white knight rode into the City of Calgary one fateful Monday night in November. A new mayor and many new city aldermen were voted in, many promising to do away with the park and ride fees. So now, the people of Calgary wait and see if the promises made will be kept. Will people take advantage of shared ride programs and public transit again, or have they become too accustomed and comfortable with driving downtown? No one knows right now, and can only hope that people have not completely soured on the city’s public transit system.
Why have I shared with you this story? Well you see boys and girls, I think that people should applaud the City of Edmonton for recognizing that adding more fees to taking public transit was not the best option. Edmonton has likely saved money when you look at the costs that the City of Calgary has incurred, only to see them go to waste.
Also, public transit may not be the most glamorous way to get around your city, but I hope that you will consider it, even from time to time. It’s good for your car, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for your pocketbook.