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‘We will never shut down transit’: Mayor promises service will remain but help needed

Last Updated May 21, 2020 at 4:51 pm MDT

(PHOTO: Tom Ross - 660 NEWS)

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — While a lot of noise was made up in Edmonton this week about the possibility that transit service would be cut off during the COVID-19 pandemic, Calgary’s mayor said there is no chance of that happening here.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson dispelled rumours as well, saying the capital city is in a deep financial bind but he is committed to keeping buses and trains running so people can still get where they need to go.

In Calgary, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said transit is losing about $12 million per week as ridership is down 90 per cent, however that does not mean that the service is worthless.

“There are still 100,000 boarding’s a day. And those people are not boarding because they love buses and trains, they are boarding because they give us essential services and they’ve got to go to work,” he said.

Already, some tough decisions have been made around reducing hours of service and cutting some routes, along with temporarily laying off over 400 employees.

More changes will be taking effect in the coming week, as more businesses begin to reopen, and the province is due to allow the first phase of the relaunch to take full effect in Calgary on May 25. Nenshi said there was a collective gasp when rumours began to float around the situation in Edmonton, but he understands the challenging situation they are in.

“We will never shut down transit din this pandemic,” Nenshi said, “we are very concerned with making sure it remains a service for people, but financially it’s very difficult. We are bleeding money.”

“We need the province and federal governments to understand that this is an issue of significant urgency and we’ve got to have that help soon.”

Nenshi said they are in a tough position when it comes to financial help because the city does not make a habit of asking for cash assistance when it comes to the operating budget. However, as we keep saying, these are unprecedented time.

RELATED: City council receives grim picture of Calgary’s finances during pandemic

There is also some chatter in the city around delaying major projects like the Green Line LRT due to the financial struggles and a perception that transit will not be viable in the future post-pandemic.

Nenshi rebuffed those calls and said it will always be an essential service and the geography of the city will not change.

“Maybe how the centre city looks will be different, how the downtown works will be different, but ultimately people will still want to come there. We’re not going to build tons more bridges and tons more roads to bring people downtown to a place where they can’t park their vehicle.”

In addition, he believes this is the perfect time to make some significant progress on these projects.

“People need to get to work, the Green Line will create 20,000 jobs so it will help with the unemployment situation. Right now, construction costs are cheap, commodity prices are a bit lower, cost of materials is lower. So, if you’re building a giant project, this is exactly the moment to do it.”

Safety provisions will have to remain in place on transit for some time, so expect to keep wearing a mask and being restricted on where you can sit for the foreseeable future.

But the economic relaunch is an encouraging sign and Nenshi is clearly faithful in the service being offered by Calgary Transit and ridership will go back up as soon as more people are able to get out of their homes.

“My hope is that as the economy reopens, transit will come right back with it.”