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Mayor says 'transit will be back in newspapers soon'

A multitude of municipal issues were discussed at Seniors on the Bow (SOTB) during a visit from Mayor Truper McBride on Sept. 20, but none more passionately than the recently placid topic of a transit system.
Mayor Truper McBride speaks at the Seniors on the Bow centre on Sept. 20. McBride made his first of several monthly visits to discuss municipal matters with attendees.
Mayor Truper McBride speaks at the Seniors on the Bow centre on Sept. 20. McBride made his first of several monthly visits to discuss municipal matters with attendees.

A multitude of municipal issues were discussed at Seniors on the Bow (SOTB) during a visit from Mayor Truper McBride on Sept. 20, but none more passionately than the recently placid topic of a transit system.

“The transit soap opera has been away for a few months,” said McBride, “but the new season of transit is coming to council on Oct. 9.”

With the town’s public engagement strategy all wrapped up, the mayor is eager to hear back from Ipsos Reid, the polling company hired to get an accurate reading on what people in Cochrane want when it comes to a transit system.

McBride said Ipsos has a ‘good track-record’ of going out and getting scientific data that shows what people are really looking for and not what they are being ‘told to think’ from various other sources.

“My guess of what comes back,” McBride surmised, “is that the community is rather split over transit. Usually when you see a council split on an issue, you see that similar split in the community. Councils actually do a fairly good job reflecting the community.”

Despite the supposed split, McBride predicted that Ipsos’s findings will reveal that Cochranites do want to see a transit system in the community, but that the town introduces it slowly, allowing it to ‘evolve organically.’

“We’re not going to get a poll that says 51 per cent of people want transit, 49 per cent don’t,” said McBride. “That’s not what’s going to come back.”

Some of the issues with transit the mayor believes the public engagement will produce are matters involving fare, a route system, frequency, cost and timing.

Following the disclosure of the findings, McBride said administration will use the data to begin drafting a model for transit, which will begin after the Oct. 9 council meeting and complete sometime in February.

“We really want to make sure we’ve heard from the community,” said McBride. “I don’t recall a public engagement campaign that we’ve ever done that has gone to such great lengths to solicit feedback from the community to find out what people want to see.”

McBride said the cost to operate a bus is roughly $100/hour, and that a transit system in Cochrane is not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when.’

The mayor also pointed to Airdrie’s inter-city transit service, saying that although many have labeled it as a ‘disaster,’ it is in reality a raving success, having now brought in 110 per cent cost recovery, and now planning to add an additional route to appease demand.

“I would suspect that the inter-city service in Cochrane would bring even more generating revenues,” said McBride.

Former Cochrane mayor Judy Stewart was also present during McBride’s visit to SOTB and pointed out that the cost numbers the town produced to the public did not include any cost recovery at all, meaning they assumed not one person would be riding the bus.

“We were using worst-case scenarios,” said McBride, adding that it was an ‘incorrect conversation’ to have. “We were supplying numbers assuming no one would want to get on this bus.”

The mayor said the discussion around the cost of transit using the zero cost recovery numbers will likely ‘rear its ugly head’ again once the transit dialogue commences.

The argument around the supposed increase in property taxes to cover the cost of a bus system is another McBride hopes will be put to bed.

“This fear that’s been generated in the community that this is going to drive property taxes to go up $100 a year is just not there,” the mayor said, highlighting that after grants have been utilized and rider fare is collected for a local system, and an inter-city service that makes money, much like Airdrie’s, property taxes will not be affected.

McBride believes that with an ever-aging baby-boomer population and the number of residents in the area who will soon no longer be behind the wheel of their own vehicle, the time to start implementing a transit system is now.

The mayor also reminded attendees that council had approved a transit system 10 years prior; something Stewart fervidly attested to. “It was a no brainer.”

Some seniors who were present at the meeting voiced concern over the lack of a transit system in Cochrane, saying the community is ‘very spread out’ and anyone who lives here, or even seniors wanting to be a member of SOTB, practically needs to have a vehicle to get to the Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre.

At present, there is a taxi service called the CAR program that offers discount rates for seniors wanting to use the service. Eligibility is based on one’s income and applications can be found at SOTB.

Budget time looming

The impending municipal budget was another issue discussed during McBride’s visit to SOTB, which the mayor said will be presented to council by the end of October and followed by an open house in November.

“This budget is positioning to be the most challenging,” McBride admitted. “We will be stretched to what we can do.”

Anticipated projects, like the aquatic centre, curling facility and arts centre, will still be given the go-ahead, but, with regards to the pool, the town will have to determine the scope of the facility depending on how well fundraising efforts go.

Funding for the aquatic centre is based on thirds – the first portion coming from the town, the second from the province and third from fundraising.

If fundraising does not go as well as is anticipated, council will have to decide whether to downsize its plans for the new facility, or borrow money to keep everything that has been hoped for.

McBride said the town intends to approach various energy companies that have been working in the Cochrane area to see if any would be willing to donate toward the new aquatic centre.

Completion of a new aquatic centre is foreseen for no later than 2015.

Roads, roads and more roads

Roads have been a priority for many residents in Cochrane and Rocky View County as of late, and SOTB members echoed that concern.

With increasing amounts of traffic streaming into the community, the lack of progress on the twinning of Highway 1A and the intersection with Highway 22 and heavy gridlock at times on 5th Ave., some seniors were curious as to when some relief would be seen.

McBride highlighted his and councils dissatisfaction with the province taking the twinning of Highway 1A off its priority list, which was done so they could concentrate more on the ‘oil sands highway,’ Highway 63 to Fort McMurray.

The mayor also said the imminent opening of Centre Ave., which will run from the 1A, through the Quarry site to Griffin Rd., will help alleviate some of the traffic off 5th Ave.

As for the speed of traffic racing through Cochrane – a worry raised from one attendee – McBride said council has thrown around the idea of photo radar to slow motorists down, but said paying for the service can sometimes be tricky, as once local drivers become aware of the effort the amount of money coming in from speeding tickets decreases and those left receiving infractions are tourists, which can give the community a undesirable image for visitors.

McBride plans to visit SOTB on a monthly basis to address municipal concerns for those wishing to speak with the mayor and learn more about town projects.