Park and Ride goes directly against the goals of Calgary Transit.

No Park and Ride needed for BRT

I’ve been participating in the City of Calgary’s online discussion for the BRT, and there is much talk about park and ride, and why they are necessary to make the route a success. After all, they are in a large part the reason the LRT has such successful core-commuting ridership numbers, so they should be included in all new high-volume transit plans, right?

First, let’s make it clear. From the city website:

There are no plans to include Park and Rides with any of the four new BRT projects. The projects are intended to serve local communities and will primarily be accessed from within the community via feeder buses, walking and cycling.

This is good news.

Park and ride systems are very problematic, and they tend to run counter to the goals that public transit tries to accomplish. Because this article hinges so much on these goals, I will state them as clearly as I can here. These goals are taken directly from the vision and mission statement of Calgary Transit:

  • Be the first choice for getting around Calgary
  • Connect you with people and places you care about by providing safe, accessible, reliable and courteous public transportation services.

These goals can really be combined into one:

  • Provide freedom to go anywhere in Calgary easily and relatively quickly without relying on another mode of transportation.

As with previous arguments I’ve made, we can debate whether this should be the goal and vision of Calgary Transit or not, but it’s a pretty standard idea: provide freedom for people to travel without a car, if they want.

Transit-Oriented Sprawl

When we place a Park and Ride service at any high-volume transit station, we are encouraging, even subsidizing (I’ll talk about this in the second problem) car use from the front door of our houses to the park and ride lot. By making it easy to drive the short, relatively uncongested distance to transit access, we have removed what is probably the most discouraging part of commuting by cars: the portion of the trip closest to the core, or wherever most people are commuting to.

Here we come to our first contradiction about park and ride: By making transit easily accessible by vehicles, we are encouraging the type of development that makes transit less accessible by anyone else. I’ve written about this problem with suburban geometry before, and it applies here. We are not, then, meeting our goal of providing a competitive alternative transportation method around the city.

There is a common argument that park and ride lots encourage ridership by drawing in neighbouring communities. This may be true only at the very beginning of a service, when the city directly around the line has not begun to adjust to the line’s existence. Land values will rise in response to good transit access.

One idea is to put in Park and Ride at the beginning of a line’s creation, and then remove it after development starts to set in. This is a good idea in theory, but I predict removing a park and ride service that people have become dependent on will be politically difficult. There is a significant risk of being left with a park and ride lot in what should be a densely developed area around a good transit line, which brings us to the second problem.

Park and Ride Price Subsidy

When a good transit service is put in, over time the value of land around it increases. This is a simple result caused by the increased freedom and choices that people have on how to move around. This appeal makes land around transit more valuable, and encourages denser developments, which can create more ridership on the line, which opens the door to improving the transit in the area. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle, with positive externalities.

Placing a parking lot (or even a parking garage) close to these high-volume transit lines and offering low-cost parking is a subsidy. The land value is high, but park and ride presumes it’s low. There we have our second contradiction. This is not a new observation, by the way, it’s an interesting economic phenomenon of heavy price subsidies, which encourages inefficent use of the resource, and leads to supply problems (there are plenty of complaints about there not being enough parking at the existing park and rides).

To their benefit, Calgary Transit is not offering these spaces for free; the current monthly rate is $80. This is, however, very low in comparison to the $250 monthly rates for downtown parking. What we should be charging is the going rate for about 20 square meters of rent. Looking at current rental prices around existing transit lines, I came up with a numbers in the $300-$400/month range. Even with a monthly transit pass of $100, it would be just as well to drive downtown and park, so why bother having the lots at all?

No Park & Ride Proposed, None Needed

Now that we have a good idea of some of the problems with park and ride service, we can turn back to the issue at hand, which is the Southwest BRT (and BRT routes in general). Adding a park and ride along this route makes even less sense than at the LRT, since people who are going to drive to transit will make use of the South LRT’s park and ride services, where they are guaranteed a smoother ride and more frequent service. I suspect that is why there is none planned for the route.

This BRT is designed for the communities and activity centres that directly surround it. Let’s keep it that way.

Willem Klumpenhouwer

Willem is a PhD student in transportation planning and engineering at the University of Calgary, working on improving transit schedule design. In his spare time, Willem does programming projects and is a volunteer and improviser at the Loose Moose Theatre.

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  • Kathryn H

    Thanks for bringing up these points, Willem – it never really occurred to me that park & ride’s might be a negative impact on our transit system!

    I would make the argument that the existing south transit system does not, in fact, serve it’s surrounding communities – only Heritage, and then Fish Creek and the stations south of it could be said to serve their communities – the other stations, I would argue, serve other purposes: shopping malls, big box stores, and highways. Just look at where they’re located: Chinook Station is near Chinook Mall, Southland Station is near Southland Mall, etc., and just about all of them are right next to a very wide, busy street – not exactly pedestrian friendly. Not to say that we shouldn’t have our LRT/BRT systems near these amenities (the sidewalks that run from Chinook Station to Chinook mall have the highest pedestrian traffic outside of the downtown core, so that says something) , but their placement doesn’t say “walk from your house/condo/residence to the LRT/BRT!” (And yes, I’ve heard the old “Just take the bus” argument, but I have taken the bus numerous times in my life, for years at a time – and trust me, it’s faster for me to take my bike or bum a ride off a friend that to wait for a bus that doesn’t show up half the time.)

    I’m really looking forward to how the South BRT shapes up – it’ll be great to finally have transit servicing the area!

    • Kathryn,

      Thanks for posting your thoughts.

      I think we have an interesting history of developing transit in this city that is “close enough”. This is certainly a practical approach, and examples of it are everywhere: McMahon Stadium, the Saddledome, and Chinook Mall are just a couple of examples. It’s been useful insofar as it’s saved a lot of money and allowed us to build out further into neighbourhoods that are less reachable, but at a certain point it can become a little bit ridiculous. What you are describing is elaborated in Ryan Plestid’s article on Convenience Barriers – you should check it out if you are interested>

      I also agree that the existing system does not serve people in the SW very well, and this is why the BRT system is very promising.

    • Ryan Plestid

      Hey Kathryn,

      I think you hit the nail of the head when it comes to what people look for from transit

      “…but I have taken the bus numerous times in my life, for years at a time – and trust me, it’s faster for me to take my bike or bum a ride off a friend that to wait for a bus that doesn’t show up half the time”

      from my own perspective (and seemingly your own) reliability, and frequency are key. The only thing worse than waiting is not knowing how long you are waiting for.


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