Usually when Calgarians talk about the city's transit system, the talk is about ways to improve it.

But according to a new report, there's not much room for improvement.

Calgary's transit system recently received an A+ in something called the Transit Report Card of Major Canadian Regions.

That tied Calgary with Vancouver for second place, just behind front-runner Montreal, which received an A+++ rating.

Nathan Pachall, a city councillor in Langley, B.C., has produced the report card for the past three years. He appeared Monday on the Calgary Eyeopener to explain how Calgary Transit earned the rating.

Below is a condensed version of that conversation.

Q: Calgary only got a B last year. What did it do this year to deserve an A+?

A: One of the scores I look at is called passenger trips intensity. So what that is is looking at where transit service is provided and where there is demand for transit. And for Calgary over the years, they've actually been improving that score year-over-year since we started this in 2013.

We're actually looking at the 2015 data for this year, which is the latest available. The other thing where Calgary has excelled at is operating costs per service hour. Calgary has one of the lowest — Edmonton actually has the lowest in Canada — so the two major regions in Alberta have the lowest operating costs per service hour.

Calgary 6155 bus stop transit

Calgary Transit can further improve by increasing service hours, says Langley, B.C., city councillor Nathan Pachall, who compiled the Transit Report Card of Major Canadian Regions. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Q: By that you're referring specifically to cost efficiency, how much it costs to move one passenger?

A: Yes.

Q: Why did you start this? You've been at this for three years now, what's your interest in this?

A: In Metro Vancouver we had a transit referendum about three years ago and there was a lot of information going around, some of it accurate, some of it not accurate. As you can imagine with all things transportation, and especially transit, people have very strong opinions, and some of them are not grounded in reality.

So I thought I would get together with this information. It's all available through the Canadian Urban Transit Association. Most transit agencies in Canada report in.

Q: When you say accurate information, are there misconceptions? You compare us to Montreal's system, which rated above Calgary's. But with density issues, Montreal's system is almost completely different than what we've got here.

A: I think when you look at Calgary, your light rail system happens to be, I think, it's the highest used light rail system in Canada and the United States. So that's where Calgary really excels. When you talk about density, this looks at where there's demand and where there is service provided.

The other side of that is when you provide service to areas just to provide basic service, and this really doesn't look at that. If you just provided, say, a bus every 15 minutes into the middle of suburbia, you'd actually get not a very good score on this, because you'd be providing service where there is no demand.

Calgary 6155 transit bus

Calgary Transit scored well when looking at operating costs per service hour. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Q: I'm sure there's people listening to this saying, 'What does some guy in Langley know about Calgary's transit system?' But you actually spent some time in this city, didn't you?

A: I did my post-secondary education in Calgary and I took Calgary Transit all the time. I was in the Woodbine area.

Q: So you know the frustrations of trying to use transit then?

A: Yes, and I've also seen the improvements. I still have friends who live in Calgary, and I know when I first lived there about a decade ago, it was very hard to get around.

I've seen those service improvements over the years. It's reflected in the numbers in this report card, whether it's the BRT or the extension of the light rail, and even the introduction of more frequent bus service in some areas.

Q: I'm sure there's still room for Calgary to improve. We're heading into a municipal election here. Transit issues will be one of the big issues, particularly extensions of LRT lines. Where does our system fall short?

A: I think you're really lacking in the service hours per capita, so that's the amount of service provided per person. When you look at Montreal, which is the leader in the country, they have three service hours per capita. 

Calgary has two, and it's actually been declining. And we've noticed in any Canadian city, when you provide more hours for transit service, people take it and you get better service.


With files from the Calgary Eyeopener