Calgary Transit service cuts halted by city council

City council has hit the brakes on proposed service cuts to Calgary Transit.

Council voted to spend $4M to maintain service levels

Calgary city council voted to spend $4 million to maintain transit service levels. (Calgary Transit)

City council has hit the brakes on proposed service cuts to Calgary Transit.

The city wanted to cut 46,800 hours of bus service in 2018 to help balance next year's civic budget. Those cuts would have affected 56,000 transit users every week on 27 different routes.

In most cases, it would mean longer waits for buses.  But on some routes, service late at night or on weekends was going to be cut.

In its deliberations on adjustments to the 2018 budget, council voted Wednesday to spend $4 million to allow transit to maintain service.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek said she was pleased with the decision.

"I just don't think that it's appropriate for people at midnight to be waiting an extra 10 minutes to get to work or to get to wherever they need to go," said the rookie councillor.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek argued it wasn't appropriate to make Calgarians wait longer for buses late at night. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Council took a lengthy but creative path to get to the transit solution without raising property taxes.

It decided to put $4 million back into transit while at the same time voting to take the same amount of one-time money from its fiscal stability reserve (FSR) to help fund its low-income transit pass program.

Administration had wanted to put that cost into next year's budget. So instead of adding that to the base budget, it will be a one-time spend.

The city will now lobby the provincial government to pay for that program in future years. Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he thinks the chance of that happening are about 50-50.

He cautions that not all of the proposed service cuts will be mitigated but Calgary Transit could decide to place vehicles on other routes with greater potential ridership.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says some routes could still see reductions. (James Young/CBC)

A number of the service changes would have affected fewer than 200 people a day.

"We cannot guarantee that all of those cuts won't happen. Some of them frankly were no-brainers," said Nenshi.

"But some of them, there were some challenges, so we'll reverse the bad ones and invest in some other things as well."

Transit's ridership and revenues have declined during the economic downturn in the past couple of years.

Council heard on Wednesday that the service is only recovering 46 per cent of its costs through fares.

That's below the target set by council of recovering 50 to 55 per cent of the cost of transit's services.

An earlier attempt by Coun. Evan Woolley to undo the service cuts by taking a similar amount of money out of the city's corporate communications budget was defeated by council.

Coun. Evan Woolley proposed cutting the city's corporate communications budget to maintain transit service levels, but that motion was defeated by council. (CBC)

For her part, Gondek said not allowing these cuts to go ahead was simply the right thing to do for Calgarians who rely on transit.

"To revert service back to lower levels would send a clear message that you've got to find another way around this city," said Gondek.

"I simply cannot endorse that when I'm fighting for the Green Line."

The proposed Green Line is currently slated to make its final northern stop along Centre Street just after 16th Avenue by 2026.

Gondek wants to find ways of getting that train line to reach further north along Centre Street well ahead of the current plan.