Mass Transit Feasibility Study
A study released February 27, 2019, suggests bus or passenger rail transit service between Calgary and Banff National Park would be feasible, and the report provides ridership and cost estimates.
The study was commissioned by the towns of Banff, Canmore and Cochrane, the City of Calgary and Improvement District 9 to examine mass transit as a way to reduce the number of low-occupant private vehicles along the corridor and in the national park.
Alberta Municipal Affairs provided an Alberta Community Partnership Grant of $350,000 to fund the study on the feasibility of establishing a mass transit service between the partner communities. The Town of Banff hired the independent consultant CPCS Transcom Limited (CPCS) to complete the study with data from the municipalities and regional stakeholders.
The study partners state that the costs would be too much for the municipalities, and any form of mass transit service in the region would require involvement from other orders of government. The municipalities will continue working to examine options and involve other stakeholders.
Feasibility Study Executive Summary
Since 2007, Banff National Park has seen visitation increase by an average of 2.6% per year. As over 93% (3.89 million) of visitors arrive in personal vehicles, this increase in visitation results in road congestion, particularly during the summer months, and associated negative impacts (e.g. longer travel times, more greenhouse gas emissions, increased traffic on wildlife corridors, and reduced visitor experience). In Banff, delays above normal travel times of 10 to 20 minutes or longer are not uncommon when roadway capacity is exceeded. This issue not only impacts the Town of Banff, but also other tourist sites within Banff National Park.
Without any mitigating action, congestion is anticipated to worsen, driven by population increases in nearby Calgary and a growing tourism and hospitality industry in Banff National Park. In the busiest months of July and August, roadway capacity in Banff was exceeded and congestion or substantial congestion occurred on 97% of days in 2017, up from 15% in 2013. A recent study found that, in 2020, the equivalent of approximately 8,710 vehicles per day would need to be removed to avoid congestion in Banff should traffic continue to grow at the same rate.
To help mitigate this growth in vehicular traffic, the Town of Banff along with its funding partners wished to study the feasibility of introducing a mass transit service between the Calgary area and the Bow Valley, including Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. To this end, the Town of Banff retained CPCS Transcom Limited (CPCS), in association with Dillon Consulting Limited (Dillon), Dominion Railway Services and Iron Moustache, (collectively the "CPCS Team") to assess the feasibility of introducing a bus- or rail-based mass transit service between Calgary and the Bow Valley. The study team gathered information through consultation, online and in-person surveys, and its own research and analysis.
- Road congestion in and around Banff National Park is increasing, leading to longer travel times, more greenhouse gas emissions, increased traffic on wildlife corridors, and a reduced visitor experience. Strategies to accommodate increased visitation while reducing these impacts are required, motivating the study of a mass transit service between the Calgary area and the Bow Valley, including connections to Banff, Canmore and Lake Louise.
- The consultant team developed bus- and rail-based options to provide mass transit along Highway 1 and the CP Laggan Subdivision, respectively.
- All-year bus scenarios are expected to have capital costs ranging from $8.1 million to $19.6 million and operating costs of $4.5 million to $5.8 million per year. Based on ridership estimates ranging from 200,000 to 490,000 boardings per year in 2022, the operating subsidy would be approximately $2.0-$2.3 million per year, with the lower subsidy figure corresponding to the high ridership scenario. A summer-only bus service scenario would reduce the operating subsidy required.
- All-year rail scenarios are expected to have capital costs on the order of $660 million to $680 million, and an operating cost of $13.4 million to $14.3 million per year. Based on ridership estimates of between 220,000 and 620,000 per year in 2022, the estimated operating subsidy would be between $8.1 million to $9.1 million per year, with the lower subsidy number corresponding to the high ridership scenario.
- Regardless of the Calgary-Bow Valley transit option pursued, there are opportunities to further increase ridership (and related benefits) and reduce costs. Further, providing transit from Calgary alone is not a complete solution to addressing congestion in the Bow Valley. Other complementary strategies, such as enhancing transit in the Bow Valley, could also be pursued.