CALGARY -- The city is exploring potential ways to navigate the future of transportation in Calgary based on the duration of, and fallout from, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic during economic uncertainty.

City administration is looking into new technologies, societal trends and major disruptions that could have lasting impacts for years to come. 

Three different scenarios have been outlined in preparation for what may come in all aspects of transportation. 

Scenario 1: Rapid Recovery

  • Pandemic: Short duration, exit in early 2021
  • Economy: Spikes in energy / oil demand; little diversification
  • Growth: Moderate population & job growth; suburban focus
  • Remote Work: Avg. 2 days / week (25 per cent less commuting downtown)
  • Retail & Delivery: Balance of physical retail & online delivery

This first scenario is based on the pandemic ending in the coming months where city funding levels remain sufficient, but still unpredictable. 

Projections for peak oil demand remains in place through the early-to-mid 2030s, consistent with the pre-pandemic forecast. 

While remote work would help to reduce transportation under this scenario, this may be offset by the growing use of delivery service vehicles and more discretionary trips by remote workers during the day. 

Scenario 2: Increased Crisis

  • Pandemic: Severe second wave, exit late 2021
  • Economy: Extended depression with high unemployment
  • Growth: Initially shrinking population & jobs, followed by slow growth
  • Remote Work: Avg. 1 days / week, but less overall travel
  • Retail & Delivery: Loss of traditional retail; low-cost online shopping

Under this scenario, depressed economic conditions would continue to result in high office vacancies as municipal funding levels and service delivery would be very constrained. Many service levels for infrastructure and city services would need to be reconsidered. 

This scenario also incorporates a global economic depression due to a severe second wave of COVID-19 and Calgary would be heavily impacted due to further global declines in demand for energy and fuel. 

Scenario 3: Transformational Change

  • Pandemic: Multi-year, multi-wave pandemic
  • Economy: Diversified 'green' economy; more 'live local & work global'
  • Growth: Steady but slower growth; greater share of growth in region
  • Remote Work: Avg. 3+ days / week (40% less commuting downtown)
  • Retail & Delivery: Primarily online shopping with fewer retail stores

City finances would be more predictable under this scenario due to greater economic diversification, but slightly more constrained when compared to recent economic growth periods in Calgary. 

This scenario notes that global oil demand may have peaked in 2019 and accounts for federal stimulus funding that drives diversification into a 'green' economy. 

Remote work would reduce transportation emissions from communities, but this may be offset by a dramatic rise in the use of delivery service vehicles. 

Transit and parking revenues would also be impacted by reduced communities demand to the downtown in this scenario. 

High Downtown Vacancy Rates

As it remains, office space in Calgary is widely available as the city’s vacancy rate downtown sits at 28.7 per cent. 

That accounts for almost 13 million square feet of empty space downtown, which is higher than any other North American city per capita and enough to accommodate about 130,000 people. 

Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who sits on the city’s transit and transportation committee, says he's been hearing from several business owners trying to reduce their footprint and adjusting to remote work. 

He says the biggest question remains whether or not Calgarians will venture into the downtown core. 

"So as were taking a look at costly infrastructure, particularly things like the Green Line LRT Project, we need to make sure there's a good business case and a cost benefit to it, otherwise we're broke and we need to make sure every dollar we spend right now is well spent."

The standing policy committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday morning. 

The findings of on the 'Future of Transportation' portfolio will be evaluated by city administration and considered for Calgary’s 2023-2026 planning process.