Calgary

Officials say $400M to shut out fare evaders from LRT system just an estimate

For years, senior Calgary Transit officials have told city council that it would cost $400 million to add turnstiles or other measures to Calgary's CTrain system to keep out those who don't actually pay a fare.

No proof of 2014 report outlining upgrade costs can be found

Last month, transit director Sharon Fleming told Calgary city council that a consultant will be hired later this year to examine the issue of a closed system. (Geneviève Normand/Radio-Canada)

For years, senior Calgary Transit officials have told city council that it would cost $400 million to add turnstiles or other measures to Calgary's CTrain system to keep out those who don't actually pay a fare.

This figure was said to come from a 2014 study.

CBC News filed a freedom of information request to obtain the study. However, no reports correspond with the request.

CBC asked to speak with Calgary Transit's GM of Transportation, Doug Morgan, but the request was denied.

For years, politicians have asked questions on the potential costs of closing the LRT system to anyone who hasn't paid a fare versus the lost revenue of maintaining an honour payment system.

Transit officials say annual surveys find only a few per cent of the total number of riders on the system do not pay a fare. They say the cost of upgrading or closing the system to those not paying would be substantial.

A spokesperson for Calgary Transit, Stephen Tauro, said the $400 million figure is actually an estimate.

"That $400 million is based on a number of things, mainly our experience with refurbing and building stations in the past. The latest station being Tuscany in 2014," said Tauro.

"The rough estimate, we're looking at anywhere between $5 and 10 million per station, depending on the make up of it, how it's developed in the community and if it has a station building already."

Tauro said the $400 million figure to move to a closed system would not include operational costs such as having station attendants, as some mass transit systems do.

A full Calgary CTrain car. (Lucie Edwardson/ CBC)

When asked why officials have used the figure, he said that there's been a "lack of clarity on our part" and that past fare evasion studies have pointed out closing the system comes with a cost.

"There's a lot of work that happens in the background. So not necessarily written down on paper but part of that study is looking at what it would cost versus continuing with the honour system."

Coun. Dan McLean recently stated he supports a closed system for Calgary's CTrain as a way of reducing social disorder and that it would help passengers feel safer.

He said he's disappointed transit has been relying on that figure but it hasn't actually studied the issue.

McLean said he has also been asking administration for information on where that estimate comes from but so far, nothing has been provided to him.


"I maybe wouldn't go as far as saying betrayed but to me, that was the reason why we pretty much shut down the issue from the get go, because of how expensive it was," said the councillor.

"I'd like to see the report because what did that include? Was that including some lighting, was that a turnstile system or is that kind of glassing in a whole facility like other cities have done? Is that fully closed, partially closed? What's the cost per turnstile per platform so that we can make some decisions."

Coun. Kourtney Penner does not support a closed system as she said money for those changes to facilities would be better spent on extending the LRT system or providing better transit service.

She said she's also heard the $400-million figure repeatedly. Upon learning there haven't been any studies examining the cost of switching to a closed system, she's calling on administration to communicate more clearly with Calgarians.

"To my own fault, right, I haven't also asked for that and have taken administration on their word that there was a dedicated study done and so that's work we all need to do to improve," said Penner.

'I think this one fell through the cracks,' says Gondek

On Wednesday, Mayor Jyoti Gondek said council often relies on information from administration to make decisions.

"We have long believed that there is this legend of a study that indicates it would be $400 million to put in turnstiles. Apparently, it's not a thing. It was simply an estimate at a point in time. So I'm digging in to find out if it was, in fact, just an estimate," she said.

Going forward, Gondek said one either of two things will happen, and she hopes it's the first.

"That is, that administration realized that if you're going to give us numbers, you need to make sure that they're backed up by empirical evidence. The second thing would be that council will, from now on, forever ask for the report before we believe anything. And I would like to think we're in a more advanced society than that," she said.

"There have been many, many times where we have received information immediately when we have asked. It has been backed up by reports and data. I think this is one that fell through the cracks, and I hope it doesn't happen again."


Last month, transit director Sharon Fleming told councillors that a consultant will be hired later this year to examine the issue of a closed system.

The city wants to explore the feasibility of implementing a closed system, examine the impacts to the customer experience as well as how it might affect accessibility and communities near stations.

That study is slated to cost up to $100,000 to complete.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Scott Dippel

Politics Reporter

Scott Dippel has been at CBC News for more than two decades across four provinces. His roles have included legislative reporter, news reader, assignment editor and national reporter. When not at Calgary's City Hall, it's still all politics, all the time.

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