How likely are you to recommend Calgary Transit to your friends?

Without firm data and clear expectations,
there is far too much emotion clouding Calgary Transit’s issues.


Calgary Transit just released a new “Customer Commitment”, outlining the how they’re going to improve the quality of service and their customer experience.

The plan has good intentions but misses the mark almost entirely and ignores the herd of elephants in the room.

Calgary Transit’s Customer Commitment

Safe — We’ll plan, design and operate a safe transit system.

Reliable — We’ll provide a dependable transit service by minimizing delays and being on time.

Helpful — We’ll provide a service that is friendly and helpful.

Informative — We’ll provide customers with accurate, consistent and timely information.

Easy to Use — We’ll make it easy to get around Calgary.

Clean — We’ll keep our vehicles, stops and stations clean.

(from CalgaryTransit.com)

What exactly is the problem with Calgary Transit?

The plan was developed through a series of surveys and consultations with users and staff in an exercise that a Calgary Transit insider described to me as one big disastrous Groupthink.

The biggest issues stand out:

Why is “plan and design” part of the safety commitment?

“We’ll make it easy to get around Calgary.” Really? Am I to blame Calgary Transit for delays on Deerfoot?

If my bus driver is grouchy and unfriendly it doesn’t have a material impact if transit is my preferred mobility choice or not.

Showing up at inconsistent times and driving the bus like it’s stolen have a much bigger impact.

The whole thing is vague, obvious and impossible all at the same time.

Frankly, I expect my fellow passengers to keep vehicles, stops and stations clean. The only thing I expect from Calgary Transit is to empty the trash bins once in a while and make sure the bus numbers aren't obscured by road grime.

But I didn’t fill out any of the surveys.

Missing from this commitment is any reference to the vision tagline that the City uses on transportation documents. “Enable Public Transit, walking and cycling to be the preferred mobility choices for more people.” There are an awful lot of values and vision statements about what Transit should be but very little evidence and celebration of the improvements that have been made, and no clear benchmarks to know when the current issues are sorted out.

Instead, Calgary Transit should ask it’s customers one thing, and one thing only:

How likely are you to recommend Calgary Transit to your friends?

The strategic clarity Calgary Transit needs will come from the answers to that very question, and they’ll probably receive constructive feedback on small changes that will have a big impact on how Calgarians view our transit system.

Increased transparency and data will help measure their success or failure going forward. Nenshi’s cited the transparency of Melbourne Australia’s transit system during the 2010 election campaign. The daily performance data should be public like this.

Daily Performance Reports from Victoria Transport (Australia)

Nenshi has even talked about refunds to passengers when performance benchmarks aren’t met. Almost 5 years after he became Mayor, we’re still trying to decide what data we’re going to use to measure our transit system.

We can develop a Passenger and Driver Bill of Rights, modeled after Calgary’s Taxi system. Having a clear reference for both sides will provide a measurable benchmark to measure service and complaints against.

Improvements mean nothing if riders don’t feel the service we receive is consistent. Without firm data and set expectations for everyone involved, there is far too much emotion clouding Calgary Transit’s issues.

It’s also not fair to blame Transit for every delay or disruption — they should only be held accountable for how they deal with the delays and inconsistencies.

Instead, there should have a very simple goal — become more consistently reliable in everything they do.

Improvements in consistency and reliability will go a long way to making me recommend Calgary Transit to more of my friends.


Read my other articles about Calgary Transit

Advice to Calgary Transit on dealing with the next major service disruption

10 things Calgary Transit can do now to improve (They’ve already done a few of them!)