By the end of this month, we’ll know which inner city bus routes will be shortened, altered or eliminated. There are a few on the chopping block since city council mandated 21,500 hours of service be cut, but with a growing population cutting transit service doesn’t make sense.

While our population has been growing by roughly 22,000 annually, Calgary Transit ridership took a hit last year dropping to 94.2 million trips in 2009, a 1.1-million decrease from the previous year.

Mayor Dave Bronconnier downplayed the results: “Transit ridership is down one per cent, but holding up very, very well under dramatically changing economic times,” he said.

There may be fewer people needing to commute to work due to job loses, but as Ald. Brian Pincott has pointed out, our transit system is designed around moving people in and out of downtown. In response, we should expand the network to serve people beyond work hours.

Not all cities affected by job loss saw a correlating decrease in ridership. In fact, ridership in Ottawa set a new record. Their growth is attributed to an extension of their bus-only Transitway, a new park-and-ride lot, 24-hour service for their busiest cross-city bus route and other service improvements.

And so it doesn’t seem to make sense that we’re cutting service hours. Instead, increased service should produce increased ridership.

I’m all for increasing efficiencies and frankly, if the routes in question are underutilized, then it’s logical to cut them. But monies saved in creating new efficiencies should be directed to increased service in other areas.

Instead, while $1.2 million has been cut from Calgary Transit’s budget, fares have increased, park-and-ride users pay where they didn’t before and overall service has decreased. Seems like a recipe for a further dwindling in ridership numbers.

Calgary Transit’s last customer survey, conducted in November 2008, could help guide which areas to improve in order to retain riders. Respondents identified service frequency, being on time, not being overcrowded, and convenience of connections and transfers as service areas that need improvement.

These findings fly in the face of planned service cuts.

The cuts also fail to respond to the objectives of Plan It, which calls for quadrupled service levels with cross-town bus routes and increased service frequency.

The city needs to show its commitment to public transit and increase service, not decrease it.

– Adrienne Beattie is a Calgary-born writer who has covered urban issues since 2001 and has an English degree from the University of Calgary.

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