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Public transit needs space to expand

The City of Calgary’s proposed transit expansion has its usual group of naysayers. They’re homeowners who bemoan the changing character of their neighbourhoods, developers who prefer expressways and car owners who are worried about losing their space on the roads.

Public transit proponents, on the other hand, have little political power. They’re people who likely can’t afford to purchase, maintain and park a car. So they rely on Calgary’s public transit system to do what it was designed to do — transport the public.

Those who use public transit often don’t have the finances or organizational ability to force transit expansions through city council. But homeowners associations and developers have both the money and political influence to demand new roads unhindered by cycle tracks and bus-only lanes.

Calgary’s transit use is already lower than other Canadian cities. According to Statistics Canada, a little under 25 per cent of Toronto commuters use transit to get to work, as opposed to only 17 per cent of Calgarians.

The price of a monthly transit pass in Calgary is within a couple dollars of other Canadian cities, so it isn’t a matter of cost. Calgarians don’t use public transit because the infrastructure is either outdated or doesn’t exist in parts of the city. Our transit system won’t be widely used until there’s a foundation in place to make it a reliable and convenient option.

That’s where the Green Line LRT expansion comes in. Planned to connect the suburban southeast with north-central Calgary, the expansion will begin as bus rapid transit (BRT) but eventually turn into a full-fledged LRT system by 2029.

That’s a long time away, and Calgary’s current transit system is noticeably less than rapid. What passes for a BRT system is little more than a handful of unconnected bus-only lanes. Those without cars are left on slow, unreliable public transit, or they’re left behind.

Opponents of expanded public transit networks claim they take space away from cars. They’re right. Designating bus-only lanes on expressways inconveniences drivers and lessens the space they have on the roads. But a bus or train transporting dozens of people deserves more space than a car with only one person.

An investment in public transit is an investment in citizen mobility. It’s important that we can easily move around the cities we live in. Calgary shouldn’t be ashamed to prioritize public transportation over more highways. Moving forward on the Green Line LRT expansion is the first step to a better transit system. The rights of individual drivers should be trumped, every time, by the right of people to move freely around the city.

Kate Jacobson, Gauntlet Editorial Board

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