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EDITORIAL: Free fare, increased transit helps residents, visitors

Affordability and protecting the environment are two priorities for both of the towns of Banff and Canmore. As cost-of-living expenses only go north in direction and the climate emergency gets worse by the day, definitive decision-making is needed.
December 9, 2021
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/www.lamontagneart.com

Affordability and protecting the environment are two priorities for both of the towns of Banff and Canmore.

As cost-of-living expenses only go north in direction and the climate emergency gets worse by the day, definitive decision-making is needed.

As Banff proceeds through its annual service review and Canmore is set to approve its budget later this month, both appear set to take the next step in helping both concerns.

Increased transit service in Canmore and free local transit in Banff for residents look to become a reality next year in both mountain communities.

The moves are progressive and continue the shift away from heavy reliance on vehicles.

It’s anything but a war on the car, but it aligns with one another’s goals of improving affordability issues and addressing climate change.

Studies from the American Public Transportation Association have found for each dollar put into public transit, $4 in economic returns are found through new jobs, less infrastructure spending on repairs and increases in property values.

The Canadian Urban Transit Association has also highlighted the benefits in numerous reports on how public transit improves accessibility, reduces congestion, promotes more integrated communities and lowers greenhouse gas emissions by more than 14 million tons a year.

A research paper from Natural Resources Canada found it’s the equivalent of taking three million cars off the road. It means less road wear and tear, not as much traffic congestion and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

While some may look at transit and wonder how it helps them if they don’t use the service, it can assist both riders and non-riders.

Improved air quality aids in overall health, fewer cars on the road helps those who drive regularly to not run into a wall of traffic, and less road damage means reduced money for repairs, which are a hefty annual cost.

From a municipal standpoint, it’s economically more beneficial for taxpayers to see buses loaded with passengers.

At its Nov. 29 service review, Banff’s governance and finance committee put in motion the plans to green light free transit within Banff for residents.

If it gets the go-ahead during budget deliberations, which begin later this month, the initiative would be funded by profits from visitor paid parking, which is projected at $1.5 million next year.

The projections by the Town of Banff staff have a 10 per cent increase in yearly ridership of about 36,000 rides.

When the Town of Canmore made the same decision, a significant increase of 50 per cent took place.

In the same service review meeting, the increase in service for Banff was tentatively approved for routes 1 and 2 from 40 to 20 minutes during the winter.

In Canmore, the finance committee recommended $138,000 from the paid parking revenue be used to increase weekday service in Canmore to 35 minutes. An extra $50,000 was also put forward for improved Sunday service.

With all members of council on the finance committee and each plan receiving unanimous approval, it's a safe bet residents can expect more public transit in 2022.

The two potential moves come following Roam transit setting a goal of reaching a 10 per cent increase in ridership above its 2019 levels. If both councils approve the changes, the goal should be easily attainable.

The Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission set its operating budget at $6.7 million in October.

A report to the commission also showed the reservation system from this past summer for the Johnston Canyon and Lake Louise routes as an early success.

The commission has also received national recognition for environmental sustainability in its new fleet building in Banff and it has placed an emphasis on moving towards electric buses as opposed to the traditional gas chugging machines.

There are still steps to get buy-in from residents and visitors, but options that are now on the table are the path forward.

Politicians are often blamed for lacking vision.

If Banff and Canmore councils approve their transit plans, the decisions will benefit residents, tourists and the environment for generations.