I’ve talked in the past about Calgary and how I think it’s an extremely useful city for Auckland to compare to and this article from The Transport Politic highlights why.

Calgary is a boomtown — the center of Canada’s resource economy, whose explosion in recent years has led to big gains in Calgary’s population and commercial activity. It’s the sort of place that might seem completely hostile to public transit; 87 percent of locals live in suburban environments where single-family homes and strip malls predominate; surrounding land is mostly flat and easily developable farmland; the city is almost 10 times bigger than it was in 1950, meaning it was mostly built in a post-automobile age; and big highways with massive interchanges are found throughout the region. Even the transit system it has serves many places that are hostile to pedestrians and hardly aesthetically pleasing.

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

In addition to this it’s not a massive city population wise and is in fact is very similar to Auckland’s – and has had similar growth over the last 30 years.

Auckland vs Calgary Population

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. As I’ll explain below, however, strong transit use in Calgary has not been a fluke; it is the consequence of a strong public policy to reduce car use downtown. It provides an important lesson for other largely suburban North American cities that are examining how to reduce their automobile use.

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 the second-most-heavily used light rail system in North America.

Calgary C Train network
Calgary C Train Network

Don’t be fooled by the term light rail, Calgary’s C-Train is the equivalent of our rail network and the Northern Busway – a rapid transit network providing a high capacity core network on a dedicated (largely on street) right of way. Supporting the C-Train network is a bus network based on the same principles as Auckland Transports proposed New Network. Both light rail and buses have seen growth over the last 17 years shown in the graph below although the light rail has clearly grown the strongest. Strong growth in rapid transit is a trend we’re really starting to see in Auckland.

The presence of rapid transit is clearly a critical factor in Calgary’s outstanding patronage results but it’ not the only factor.

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).

Perhaps most impressive have been Calgary’s parking policies. For decades, the municipal government has managed parking supply downtown, in part by directly owning a huge proportion of the spaces. The city has also limited the number of spaces allowed to be built in the center. In 1981, the city had 25 million square feet of offices downtown and 33,000 parking spaces (1,320 parking spaces per million square feet), but today, it has more than 40 million square feet of offices (and more under construction) and 47,000 spaces (1,175 spaces per million square feet, an 11 percent reduction). The limitations on the number of parking spaces has resulted in an expensive parking market; the city has the second-highest parking rates in the Americas, after New York City.

For car users wishing to get downtown, the city has compensated by investing in 17,433 park-and-ride spaces at almost every light rail station, of which 36 percent are reserved for people who have paid $80 a month, a considerable discount off the downtown rates. This emphasis on park-and-ride spaces departs from the typical urbanist emphasis on transit-oriented development as a strategy for station areas, but it seems to have worked in Calgary.

Charging for Park & Ride is a relatively new thing for Calgary and is a response to ever increasing demand for more and doing so has had no impact on patronage. The city is also now looking to reduce the number of P&R spaces it has by using them for development so the total number will drop over time.

I don’t how much office space Auckland has but as a comparison there are around 50,000 carparks in the Auckland CBD and many more on the fringes outside it.

CBD Parking Supply

And what of the impacts of the policy of restricting carparking.

These policies have produced the overall city transit ridership noted above, and have been particularly relevant in affecting travel trends downtown. Between 1998 and 2014, the share of downtown workers using transit to get to work has increased from 37 percent to 50 percent; a rise has also been noted in the share of people walking and cycling, which has risen from 8 percent to 11 percent over that period. That transit share is just a bit lower than that seen in Chicago’s Inner Central Area (55 percent in 2000), a central business district that was developed far earlier and which has a far more developed transit system.

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 fact, Calgary’s office market is doing quite well, with five office buildings over 500 feet completed downtown since 2010, compared to just one in Dallas, one in Houston, and none in Phoenix. Calgary’s downtown population has expanded rapidly to 16,000 people and now hosts 140,000 jobs and eight shopping centers. It should be noted that the Calgary municipal government has also played an important role in advocating for a compact city and directed local policies to support that goal.

In other words, restricting automobile use and encouraging transit ridership not only don’t hurt business — they may be encouraging it.

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  1. ” In 1981, the city had 25 million square feet of offices downtown and 33,000 parking spaces (1,320 parking spaces per million square feet*)”

    And here we go about to allow SkyCity to add 1320 carparks to the CBD just for the new Convention Centre – a space that is a fraction of a million square feet in size and will host at best 10 major international conferences a year, catering for no more than 3600 delegates each time.

    I really believe that this amount of parking they are wanting is actually for SkyCity casino to use as “overflow” parking more than it is for Convention centre users to use during all those “big” conventions or even the smaller conventions between the big ones.

    And for those who say AT should get out of the parking business?
    You can see in that graph that for long stay parking AT are pretty much a small minority provider now.
    Even short stay parking is more private sector than public sector controlled.
    Which means any policy changes to restrict parking will be difficult to sell to people (users or landowners) up front – better way is to convince the owners of the parking that there are more economic uses for it (like housing office workers and residents) than housing cars.

    Council could help lead the way though, in bringing this change of thinking about, by charging much higher annual local body rates for car parking buildings than they do – this would rebalance the economics of car park buildings back towards productive uses.

    *A million square feet is about 100,000 m2 or about 10 Hectares – which for context as I recall is about 10% of the CBD land area south of the town hall between the Symonds St and the Hobson St Ridges.

    1. I think applying land rates to carparks a very good idea and more useful in a lot of ways like disencouraging wasted prime land vs tolling motorways plus easier. To be fair to the public I don’t think that should happen until the bus network is fully operational when there will be a very viable alternative via linking all PT vs driving to all Aucklanders.

  2. In contrast here is a telling experience I just had in Queen St this morning.

    I was photographing a new hi-end boutique for their French owners from the opposite side of the road, I was standing on footpath and had one leg of my tripod in the short stay [5 min] parking bay. In front of the store I was shooting is a loading zone bay. I was waiting for drivers of the cars parked illegally across the road to return and get out of the way of my subject. There were no delivery vehicles, one of the reasons why I was shooting today.

    A cop came up and told me I had to move the tripod leg out of the parking bay because I was potentially obstructing drivers from parking there. When I pointed out I would then be blocking the footpath much more he said he didn’t care about that [footpaths very busy today as you can imagine], but I had to get out of the area reserved for cars. I then asked him to ticket the illegal parking across the road and he shrugged and said that is the Council’s problem…. pushing my luck I retorted then that surely means my occupation of a few square centimetres of the parking space was also not his business.

    That’s when he got really shitty so I moved the tripod 300mm back and he puffed himself up and victoriously swaggered off.

    A little example of how when in a car we have more backing than out of it in our culture; it’s deeply ingrained into all our institutions….. Calgary has a better balance it would seem.

    1. Problem was Patrick your tripod had no wheels on it. If it had, he probably would have left you alone – he might have busted you for parking partly on the footpath too (but unlikely given how much of blind eye that seems to get these days).
      And of course, if you had parked your car (or bike!) there and were shooting from there, well he wouldn’t have a (tripod) leg to stand on would he?

      If that had been me, I’d have taken the guys police number and then lodged a formal complaint about his conduct – either he is willfully ignoring the parking rules enforcement by not equally targeting the cars over the road as well as you – assuming said Loading zone is a 7 day a week one – as most parking restrictions don’t apply Sundays and Public holidays unless the sign says otherwise, and then the P15 wouldn’t apply then either unless it said 7 days a week..

      Or he actually has zero jurisdiction to enforce anything there and this becomes a “you have to move because I say so” issue.
      My cousin is cop and thats the sort of smart-arse behaviour I’d expect from him in that situation, but I know he’s based in Wellington these days so it wasn’t him, but that “I’m always right” attitude does seem to pervade more than a few police officers it seems.

      But kind of raises the issue, what are the legal users of a P15 parking space defined as – surely anyone could “park” there or do you have to be a “motor vehicle” to be able use such a park?

        1. So you were supposedly guilty of “obstructing the road” (hence his interest) I take it – but all those cars were merely “illegally parked”?

          Would seem to be a pretty fine distinction to draw in practise and I’m sure a judge would have seen it that way too.

          But yep it shows how ingrained and biased “car culture” is in our society and laws.

      1. Man meets fellow dog walker at beach.

        Do you live local? Yeah, Forrest Hill, about 10-15 minutes walk.

        O. You walk here? ( translation : are you crazy, in Auckland we drive to go walking)

  3. I’m a little hesitant about presenting Calgary as something of a PT benchmark for Auckland. The latter is compact, of moderate density, and polycentric – whereas Calgary tends to combine low density sprawl with a high density commercial core (where a lot of oil companies have their headquarters). So the urban forms of the two cities are actually quite different …

    On the other hand (as H.P. notes) Canadian cities in general provide a good set of case studies, as they encompass a variety of scales/forms and have all taken relatively different paths to get to PT networks that are effective/efficient compared to Auckland’s. That means looking at Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg and Edmonton etc, rather than one in isolation. When you do the following starts to emerge:

    – They all tend to have high-capacity radial rapid transit networks, e.g. SkyTrain in Vancouver, subway in Toronto, LRT in Calgary, BRT in Ottawa,
    – They also tend to have networks of lower-capacity (but high frequency) services connecting to the RTN, e.g. buses, trams etc.
    – They tend to focus park and ride on where it works (and often priced). Vancouver has very little park and ride, for example.
    – They place a high emphasis on efficient operations, e.g. fleet (double-door entry/exits) and depots (optimised locations)

    As a consequence of these factors (and more) Canadian cities tend to have both 1) high patronage and 2) high cost recoveries.

    1. Yes I agree it’s not the perfect example but it is one to consider and as you point out, all Canadian cities tend to do well due to good networks.

    2. I’m interested in the politics at work in Canada that seems to be inherently conservative and anti-P.C. B.S (ie very similar to NZ), yet has allowed investments in great PT networks in a number of cities across Canada. How have the PT and city planning lobbyists managed to sway right wing city, state and national governments in Canada?

      I’m sure that the promise of a high cost recovery is part of the picture, and maybe also public/private partnerships. In Canada, who gains the increase in land values along transit corridors that accrue from investments in metro networks for example?

      Don’t forget to also include extensive and successful heavy rail networks in Toronto and Montreal ‘high-capacity radial rapid transit networks’. Toronto is an interesting case study of a heavy rail network much like Auckland. In both cases a fairly small scale legacy rail operator network was taken over by the city, heavily invested in and became one of the core elements of rapid transit operation.

      Lastly, the Canadian winter does provide powerful motivation for investment in safe and reliable transit modes that are an alternative to the private car.

  4. How expensive is Pt in Calgary? I tried very hard to take pt to my new job but as it I involves taking a ferry and i hve free parking it doesn’t make any sense. No one in my office takes pt. Not a single person and I work for a CCO.

    1. Table 10 in the document I linked to above shows Calgary’s average fares ($/trip) as being in the middle of the range for other Canadian cities at $1.53. That’s about NZD $1.73 per trip.

      In Auckland I suspect it’s more like $2.00 – $2.50, once all the fare discounts are considered.

      1. although need to bear in mind that projects like electrification and HOP are likely to 1) reduce costs and thereby push up Auckland’s cost recovery while 2) generating patronage growth and thereby pushing down average fare.

        1. I think this fare issue is very important, it’s like we want to fill the stadium but don’t want the ground and band to go broke. I really think this bus network has untapped potential, and I think if we could get another 400 hybrid buses and started a CFN network in duplication could really deliver a blow and a monumental mode shift so people choose to take PT wherever possible. Plus get more trains so up to post CRL fleet right now.AT with this launch need to be thinking that it will boom and to price accordingly, Calgary fares don’t see why not? Buses need to be be phased into public ownership and all revenue going back into the PT network. This will be primary mode before rail or at least with rail why not maximize investment and return ( and make smart ,flexible fleet decisions) so true savings go back to the ratepayer and traveller. Just ideas but genuinely want this to be successful and deliver a punch back for the idiotic transport focus last 60 years and the damage done.

        2. I’d be interested if the CFN planners could look at a 2030 equivalent in 2016 having 400 hybrid buses looking at routes – realise not busway apart from northern busway and AMETI (not sure how far by then but regardless a dedicated bus lane to highland park at least is achievable right now on Pakuranga highway. Going north to silverdale right now even without a dedicated motorway lane. Even same north western assume no changes to current, just assume 20% mode shift. Other roads if 4 lane assume a T3 in one lane or bus lane if think do-able straight away. If going 24hrs what is potential additional capacity if spread out roughly 100 buses per sector? How many allocate per route, maybe this is tricky? What is possible fare box recovery?
          Is this even a good idea to try to turbo bus network with road marking practical solutions in 2 years time with a rapid fleet.

      1. Would you feel better if that CCO subsidised PT for its employees instead?
        Even if that cost more $?

        [Because a PT subsidy would incur Fringe Benefit Taxes, whereas a “free” car park doesn’t]

        1. Could an argument be made that the elimination of parking subsidies and the potential to increase the tax/rates base by encouraging development of the parking into something else when coupled with a reduction in global warming, based on the marginal cost of additional PT customers vs the cost of private transportation is actually better for the economy and therefore worthy of a zero rating in terms of FBT.

          The question is how would you measure these things and would IRD be favourable to the argument or would it be too hard ?

        2. I can sum up IRD’s position in one word: “yes” and everyone else but the IRD’s position in: “too distortionary”.

          But basically, while the IRD would love to put FBT on all those free employer provided car parks to level the playing field it got too much push back from the EMA, the unions and the Government when it mooted it last time.
          Its very hard to isolate employer provided car parks “on premise” from those “not on premise but nearby” and those used by visitors and customers.
          In essence every car park would need its own log book of what hours it was in use and for what purpose. When it was used by an employee then it would attract FBT but not otherwise.

          So for now, free parking stays, well “free” and anything else (like subsidised or free PT) is a “perk” so is liable for FBT.

          Basic issue stems from the IRD considers employee travel to from the workplace to be not work related (yeah right), so its not tax deductable.

          If the IRD made workplace travel tax deductable (as I believe it should be – to a annual maximum figure) it would immediately flatten the playing field out completely and make the whole problem mostly go away..

        3. Actually, I’m not so sure FBT would occur. It is very shady in how it is written for PT passes. I will try and find the link again tomorrow. As an aside, I did an OIA to IRD requesting how much FBT had been collected on PT passes and they couldn’t tell me as they had no info.

      1. I tried in the past to suggest something like that, I got laughed at. And what pisses me off even more is that 9-5 paper pushers like me take up carpark spaces that should be allocated to other purposes like operations staff, shift workers, deliveries and such.
        Still, 10.30$ for a day pass is cheap as.

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