By Nikki Jamieson
When I was going to university in Halifax, I, like many of my classmates, did not drive.
While I did have a drivers license, I did not have access to a car, nor could I afford to have one. It is a situation not atypical of the average university student, who is often a) living away from the rent-free bedroom at their parent’s house, b) figuring out for the first time how to budget their hard-earned money, and c) still in sticker shock from tuition fees and textbooks. The few people I knew who did own a car often lived away from their university of choice, away from the relative ease of the Halifax Regional Municipality’s Metro Transit system.
As the majority of their students used public transportation to travel to and from classes, most universities and colleges in Halifax offered bus passes — valid from the start of the school year to the end of it — as part of their tuition, and unlike its health benefit package, no one opted out. The bus system wasn’t perfect by any means; the buses were almost never on time, they were often crowded and during peak times if you weren’t right by an exit, it was nearly impossible to get off. But depending on where you lived, it was handy, so you grumbled to your friends and that was that.
Then on Feb. 2, 2012, the union consisting of Metro Transit employees began striking. From then until mid-March, no public transit — with the exception of Access-a-Busses, which went down to a limited service — was available.
Literally thousands of people who had depended on the transit system to get to work or school or anywhere in particular found themselves stranded. Bus passes were returned in droves while employers and schools handed out taxi chits like candy. Although myself and plenty of classmates were fortunate to live within walking distance to the school, unless we took a $15 taxi ride (at minimum) somewhere, we were stuck walking. Those who have experienced Halifax in February find it is best described as cold, humid and slushy. Not nice to walk around in at all. So we all breathed a sigh of sweet relief when the union and Metro Transit finally reached an agreement and services resumed as usual.
I recognize that here in Taber, where you can pretty much walk 10-15 minutes and get to your desired location, this story doesn’t have much relevance. Even if Taber did have a public transit system, if it’s workers went on strike it would hardly freeze the town up, because again, pretty much everything is within walking distance, and the town doesn’t own the handi-bus. Yes, lugging groceries around would suck, but even if you didn’t own a car, chances are you know someone who would gladly drive you to get groceries for the week, even if it might cost you a coffee or a beer depending on how often you need to go.
But for a city to grow and function, it needs a reliable transit system.
Take nearby Calgary for instance. In addition to the standard busses, it is also home to the LRT. The LRT is, in my opinion, a freaking miracle in connecting people living in Calgary to major centres. From the Stampede grounds to universities to theatres, chances are for most events, if you don’t want to worry about parking, you can hop onto the LRT and away you go. Of course there are its negatives, its two lines only run southwest to northeast and northwest to southeast, so it kind of leaves a lot of area unserviced. But a plan to add a new Green Line to the LRT aimed to connect those living north to downtown to south, and added just a bit more sparkle to Calgary’s LRT ahh-ness.
But of course, even the best laid plans lose their sparkle.
It is a problem not unfamiliar to many a council: an over-budgeted project. While all councillors, ex and current, reading this might feel a familiar chill creep down the back of their necks at the term, Calgary’s beloved proposed Green Line has been besieged by budget issues, and instead of costing the estimated $4.5 billion for the entire project, the first phase alone is set to cost $4.65 billion, or $1.5 million more than what Calgary City council had thought the entire, completed line would cost.
Even in a place like Calgary, which houses roughly 29 per cent of the province’s population, that’s no chump change.
Although the main reason for the budget discrepancies is because of design decisions, such as for the line to go under the Bow River, with stations between the 2 Street S.W. to MacLeod Trail S.E. points being underground, according to the city’s engage website, and they are still figuring out how to connect some points for it. It would not be out of the realm of possibilities to suggest that potentially, that price tag might go up as the route is finalized and building begins.
To try to cut down on costs, the city is now focussing on completing stage one of the project — which will stretch from 16th Avenue North, through Inglewood/Ramsey, Crossroads, Odgen and Quarry Park, before ending in the Shepard neighbourhood.
In total, stage one of the Green Line is expected to span 14 neighbourhoods with construction expected to start in 2020 and being completed by 2026, with the portions of the line going to Seton in the south and North Pointe in the north of the city to be completed as funding becomes available.
To say the least, residents are not happy.
Besides the apparent bait-and-switch, the Green Line was supposed to connect residents living in both northern and southern neighbourhoods of the city to downtown, which contain a large number of residents.
The first stage alone will provide access to an additional 65,000 people, and a recently approved residential community in the north was approved in part because of it’s access to transit.
Now, there is no timeline for those last two lengths of the Green Line, so yeah, people are going to be angry.
Although rationally, I can understand how in some places, such as an already crowded, established, downtown core, they kind of have to build it underground, I have to wonder why this option wasn’t scheduled into the overall price tag.
Adding that although both the city and federal governments have pledged money to this project, but the province hasn’t, does lead to a bit of uncertainty as to whether it can be done in time for the 2026 Winter Olympics, should the city get the bid.
Years from now, once the entire Green Line has been completed, I’m sure this will be a lesson learned for the city, should they move onto a Purple Line to connect the western and eastern parts of the city by LRT, or expand the existing lines; maybe plan for that pricey underground scenario when you first budget.