'It's so great to be back': Calgarians getting out more, mobility data shows

With most COVID-19 restrictions gone, Calgarians are moving around the city more, and many of them are back at the office.

Driving, walking, transit up but office visits still below pre-pandemic levels

Calgary's 17th Avenue S.W. was busy on Thursday as more people begin to move around the city. (Nick Brizuela/Radio-Canada)

You might have noticed it out on the streets, maybe at the mall or parks. Perhaps you waited extra long this week to make a turn on your drive into the office.

With most COVID-19 restrictions gone, Calgarians are moving around the city more, and many of them are back at the office, according to mobility data from Apple and Google, which release aggregated location data of mobile phone users.

The numbers also stack up anecdotally as many people have noticed the difference.

"It's so great to be back among my co-workers and getting that energy from seeing them. You know, all of us working together on the same project," said Jeni Piepgrass, who works at the Glenbow Museum.

Because the vast majority of Calgarians use smartphones that run either Google's Android or Apple's iOS operating system, the data provides a glimpse into how residents are moving through the city, particularly as conditions have changed throughout the pandemic.

Apple data shows Calgarians are driving, walking and taking transit after a drop that coincided with the peak of the Omicron wave of COVID-19.

Movement numbers increased from the start of January onward in the previous two years, but 2022 has seen the strongest first-quarter rebound during the pandemic.

The two tech giants present mobility data differently, which allows for different pictures of how people are moving through the city.

While Apple shows that phone users are moving more, Google data shows that users are still staying at home more than the baseline period pre-COVID in Calgary.

Office attendance has increased from the lows of April 2020 but remains an average of 20 per cent below baseline.

The data shows that Calgarians are also at home an average of six per cent more than in early 2020.

Even if numbers haven't returned to pre-pandemic levels, the numbers show people have returned to the office. That's reflected both in where they are spending time and in how they are getting there.

The numbers show people are driving more, which has slowed the commute for some.

"It's kind of frustrating, but it is what it is, right?" said Brendan Pansky, whose drive has doubled to 20 minutes from 10 earlier in the pandemic.

Of the three modes of transport that Apple tracks, walking is up the most, which is an easy way to get around any new congestion.

That is, if you can.

Mark Dickson, who walks from Eau Claire to the Bow Valley Square building downtown, said it's nice to see the city come back to life. He uses the Plus-15 network to get to work.

"It's been great to see everyone out walking," he said. "I don't have any problems with anything."

Piepgrass, who has a 10-minute bus ride from her home in Highwood to get to her job downtown, said the commutes have been pretty easy so far since starting back at the office.

"I do find it very convenient," she said.

Employers allowing 'hybrid model'

CBC News reached out to a number of major employers in downtown Calgary and many said they have been allowing employees some mix of working from home and office since restrictions were lifted March 1.

Suncor, the Calgary company with the largest number of employees, invited its staff to return voluntarily after Alberta lifted its mandatory work-from-home directive. The energy giant instituted a "hybrid model" that allows worker flexibility as of March 28, according to company spokesperson Leithan Slade.

"Our hybrid work arrangements are available depending on the nature of an employee's role and their work. And so employees and their leaders are working together to determine how it's applied in individual circumstances," he said.

Slade said they do not have a timeline for whether they would discontinue the hybrid model.

The Telus Sky and Bow buildings tower over downtown Calgary Thursday as an increasing number of workers return to their offices. (Nick Brizuela/Radio-Canada)

Jesse Semko, a representative of Enbridge, said all of its 1,600 Calgary employees could return to the office as of March 28. However, the multinational pipeline company expects "about 80 per cent of employees will opt in to work from home one or two days per week."

Shawn Brade, leader for KPMG's business enablement team in Calgary, said in an email that the accountant firm expects employees will also follow a hybrid model, spending two to three days per week either in the office or at a client site.

"For different teams," he wrote, "there are different needs to consider. We are committed to having our teams work where they are most effective while meeting client, business and individual needs."


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