BANFF – Free transit for residents on Banff local Roam routes is set to get the green light.
During the kick-off to service review on Monday (Nov. 29), the governance and finance committee tentatively approved several transit-related initiatives to be funded by profits from visitor paid parking, estimated to be $1.5 million in 2022.
Councillor Grant Canning made a motion for free transit for residents on local routes only based on a recommendation from administration, but any decisions made in service review can be reneged later in the budget process.
“If you want to maximize transit and ridership, meet environmental goals and address congestion, you have to work towards free and frequent transit,” said Coun. Canning.
“That is where transit systems need to go, especially in a community like ours because that is the true incentive to actually get people to take a bus rather than getting in their car.”
Administration predicts free-fare transit for residents would lead to about a 10 per cent increase in year-round ridership, estimated to be 36,000 riders.
When the Town of Canmore went free for all riders on local Roam routes in that community, ridership increased by about 50 per cent.
Coun. Canning said his initial support for paid parking was also predicated on providing tangible benefits to residents, adding he didn’t want to see revenue go into general operating budgets.
He said cost-of-living challenges for residents also plays into his support for fare-free transit.
“There are a lot of residents in our community who would benefit from this type of program,” he said.
“If they were able to ride the transit system for free locally, I think that would go a long way in helping us get that mode share switch – to get people out of their cars and hopefully on buses.”
Councillor Barb Pelham voiced support for fare-free transit; however, she said she is also interested increasing rates for visitor paid parking, currently $3 an hour in summer and $2 an hour in winter.
“I would like to see some changes, which include an increase in the rate for visitor paid parking for visitors, not for residents,” she said.
“I would also like to see an addition of some key locations within the townsite of Banff that are very popular with visitors.”
Councillors Hugh Pettigrew, Ted Christensen and Kaylee Ram voted against free-fare transit at this stage of deliberations.
Coun. Pettigrew had argued Banff should move towards a full cost recovery model for transit, noting he’d prefer to see the bus fares jump from $2 to $3 as opposed to being free for locals.
He also sought to set aside at least half of paid parking revenues for tax stabilization to deal with the ongoing financial fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I worry we may not have any money left in the kitty later on,” he said. “I see our visitor paid parking source of funding dwindling by the minute.”
Profits from the visitor paid parking program, which kicked off in early July, are estimated at $162,000 this year, $1.5 million in 2022, $1.7 million in 2023 and $1.8 in 2024.
Banff’s paid parking reserve policy stipulates where net revenues from paid parking must go.
Included in that list are roadway and parking improvements, transit enhancements, increased snow clearing, cycling or other active transportation initiatives, transportation decarbonization projects, tax stabilization or economic recovery.
The governance and finance committee also tentatively gave approval for an increase in winter service on Banff local routes 1 and 2 from 40 minutes to 20 minutes, bringing it in line with summer bus frequency.
The $180,000 price tag will be funded through paid parking profits and not general tax dollars.
This move connects the industrial compound from the end of Banff Avenue through downtown to Middle Springs, the gondola, hot springs and Rimrock hotel as well as Fairmont Banff Springs and Tunnel Mountain area.
Mayor Corrie DiManno voiced strong support, saying she is convinced making transit more convenient and frequent will build Roam ridership, especially among residents.
“If they know it’s every 20 minutes and they can depend on it, they will make that mode shift,” she said.
“Why not with this visitor paid parking money invest in the behaviour that we want to see… It would be a good news story for residents.”
DiManno said this will also help improve connectivity to the industrial compound, noting ongoing discussions about the need for a safer connection due to residents illegally crossing the train tracks by Marmot Crescent to get to and from the compound.
She said it may also help address issues of recruitment and retention Roam has been facing.
“We’ve also heard, not just with Roam, but through our whole townsite about labour shortages,” said the mayor.
“If we’re able to maintain year-round frequency, they can offer year-round employment.”
Visitor paid parking profits will also fund maintenance associated with opening a portion of the intercept parking lot at the train station in winter, as well as increased litter pick-up and additional portable toilets in summer. That comes with a price tag just shy of $100,000.
Four portable toilets instead of two will be put by the path leading to Big Horn Street to address complaints by residents about visitors crapping and peeing in the woods. The increased popularity of the intercept lot also created a marked increase in the volume of litter.
Councillor Chip Olver voiced support for opening a portion of the parking lot in winter as well as an increase in litter picking and portable toilets.
“If things look clean people are much less likely to litter, and if it’s already littered then I think it makes people more careless with their litter,” she said.
“I always think we need to have toilets. I think the report called it ‘fugitive use of the bushes’ and we don’t want that happening.”
The governance and finance committee also considered the concept of transit priority lanes in the coming years given transit reliability and efficiency depend on buses not being stuck in traffic.
The committee tentatively approved spending $60,000 of visitor paid parking revenues in 2023 to develop a conceptual design to add a northbound transit lane on Mountain Avenue from Middle Springs Drive to the intersection by Silver Dragon restaurant and Banff YWCA.
In addition, about $50,000 in paid parking revenues could be spent on finalizing a design for the addition of a northbound transit exclusive lane on Spray Avenue, to be accompanied by a communications plan for residents in the area.
The Spray Avenue transit lane proposal would lead to a loss of about 20 parking stalls, leading some councillors to express concern about potential parking spillover into neighbouring residential areas.
Mayor DiManno was unsuccessful in her attempt to convince her colleagues to move both of these projects ahead next year instead of 2023, saying priority transit lanes are tools that can help on these busy roads leading to prominent tourist attractions.
She said this is another creative step to try to solve the town’s traffic congestion problems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“You really want to roll out the red carpet for transit and if we’re giving them priority lanes, it really speaks to our values as a community,” she said.
“I want it to be the VIP experience compared to being in your private vehicles.”
Another project recommended by administration to be funded from visitor paid parking revenues is the redevelopment of Bow Avenue. That issue is up for discussion on Wednesday, Dec. 1.