Some downtown commuters in Airdrie are upset about the implementation of the City’s Inner City Express (ICE) transit system, which will begin next fall.
“I don’t think this new transit service is meeting the needs of the community,” said local resident Michael Ross.
Ross said the ICE route will double his commute time to downtown Calgary to four hours.
“Four hours a day is not acceptable. What can be done for existing commuters?” he asked.
The ICE will include three articulated buses that will integrate with the City of Calgary’s transit system, stopping at numerous sites on Centre Street and then continuing into downtown.
The First Student Canada commuter bus, which provides a direct route from Airdrie to downtown Calgary, may be shutting down because it doesn’t want to compete with the City’s service.
“We don’t think there is enough ridership for both services,” said Stan Weber, regional vice president for First Student.
“If the City puts the service on and a portion of our 200 riders move over to the new service, our service is no longer viable and we can’t afford to have any sort of reduction in ridership – it will put us in the red.”
Weber said First Student Canada is willing to work with the City if it is determined that the direct service is required.
“We are open for further suggestions if the City truly believes that both services can be sustained,” said Weber.
“We are happy to work with the City and have had some preliminary discussions. If the City says, ‘we don’t think we can meet the demand,’ we would be more than happy to continue. Ultimately, the customers will dictate what the service will be.”
Some of those customers are not happy with the idea of the commuter bus shutting down.
Daniel Keating and his wife moved to Airdrie in 2005 and she took a job in downtown Calgary because she knew the First Student Canada commuter bus would allow easy access to her work. Keating says his wife’s commute will be increased by hours.
“She will have to get up at 4 a.m. and won’t be home until 6 p.m.,” he said.
“We moved to Airdrie for the ‘family atmosphere.’ How family-oriented is it when you are spending 14 hours a day away from your kids? It doesn’t seem the City of Airdrie is considering the working folk.”
Bruce Hanson asked council if it could guarantee that service with the ICE will be as good or better than it is now with First Student Canada.
“The point-to-point one way service is a completely different service than what we are rolling out,” said Mayor Linda Bruce.
“The ICE is a transit service. It provides access to areas other than the downtown core. We had no intention of putting (First Student Canada) out of service. It would be my preference that they continue to operate. I hope (the closure) is not something written in stone and we can work together to work something out.”
Michelle Lock, director of community services, said 2,300 cars currently drive to Airdrie every morning during the peak period, while 2,600 go to Calgary. According to the 2005 Regional Transportation Study, 700 of those vehicles are going downtown, while the others go to locations such as the Foothills Hospital, SAIT, the University of Calgary and industrial parks in north Calgary.
“We wanted to connect people to other areas in the city because there was already a downtown commuter,” said Lock.
“We are in the middle of the process of trying to determine what the needs of the community are. As users of the service, I hope you are having conversations with First Student Canada because it was their decision not to continue.”
Bruce said it is difficult to determine how the ICE service will progress at this point.
“We were told about the closure at the 11th hour and it has forced us to change how we are looking at this,” she said.
“A downtown commuter wasn’t part of the transit system we were planning.”