Doug Clarke picked this up from the Transport Politic:

Calgary’s soaring transit use suggests high ridership is possible even in sprawling cities


It’s an environment that looks a lot more like Dallas or Phoenix than Copenhagen.

And yet Calgary is attracting big crowds to its transit system, and those crowds continue to increase in size. Like several of its Canadian counterparts, Calgary is demonstrating that even when residential land use is oriented strongly towards auto dependency, it is possible to encourage massive use of the transit system. …

Much of the trend of increasing transit use has come recently, in part because of the expansion of the city’s light rail network, C-Train. That system, which opened in 1981 and has been expanded several times (it now provides service on 36 miles of lines), has become the backbone of the municipal transit agency and now serves more rides than the bus network. C-Train is now thesecond-most-heavily used light rail system in North America.

But, as the following chart demonstrates, that growth has not come to the detriment of the bus network. Indeed, Calgary buses now are providing about 20 million more annual rides than they were in 1996. Overall, the transit system is carrying about 80 million more riders annually than it was 17 years ago …



At the heart of the matter seems to be a radically different view about how to manage automobiles downtown. Decades of progressive thinking about how to run downtown have produced a Calgary where there are no freeways entering the central city. Citizens there have been vocally opposed to building
highways there since the 1950s, with the consequence that it is simply not that quick to get into downtown by car. This has a number of related effects, including the incentivization of non-automobile modes and the reduction in outward suburban sprawl (since it takes a longer amount of time to get to the center of downtown).calgary-train

Pro-transit policies have not produced a dramatic move of businesses away from Calgary’s center city — the fear many politicians and business promoters point to when complaining about limitations on automobile access to downtown.  … In other words, restricting automobile use and encouraging transit ridership not only don’t hurt business — they may be encouraging it. …

Calgary’s success — unlike that of Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto, for example — comes despite its relative lack of pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and a transit system that has encouraged them. To a significant degree, it is clear that it is possible to boost transit use simply by making it more expensive and complicated to drive to work, and relatively easier to take transit.


Is it really necessary to point out the irony if the referendum fails to fund transit in Metro Vancouver as Calgary surges ahead?  (Oh yeah, it is.) 


  1. The part about ‘expensive and complicated’ hits the nail on the head. Limited road capacity into downtown makes driving complicated and the parking maximums downtown make driving expensive.

    It’s hard to underestimate the effect of Calgary’s parking maximums for downtown. They cap the number of parking spaces that can be built for each land use in downtown, whereas most cities do the opposite. And with ParkPlus they have probably the most advanced parking management program on the continent and the maximums lead to parking rates second only to NYC in North America. In return they get a very dense downtown unlike Dallas or Phoenix mentioned at the beginning of the article, where half (or more) of downtown is taken up by parking. More space for businesses and for people to live, shorter distances to walk.

  2. You are very right: transit offer by itself is simply not good enough to generate significant mode shift from the car.

    Here is the pattern for Vancouver over the same time frame

    (that is assuming TheTransport Politic is also using a linked trip metric: typically a a transit trip is composed of several unlinked trips…and introduction of a train line usually generate bus transfers so unlinked trip increase more than linked trip

    Sure Calgary, got a more impressive growth…but that comes with a catch: It started from a much lower transit ride/capita than Vancouver:

    In 2013 Vancouver had 144 unlinked trip/capita and Calgary 130.

    (linked trip could be a better measure but I don’t have the number of linked trip for Calgary and don’t see in the APTA statistic

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