Viewpoint: Transit services need to be election issue — Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The issue of public transit challenged city council the most in its 2012-16 term. Residents who use transit and want it improved formed Bus Riders of Saskatoon in the fall of 2014. We want to live in a city where using public transit is easy. It should be a viable transportation choice for all, and…

via Viewpoint: Transit services need to be election issue — Saskatoon StarPhoenix


Saskatoon Municipal Campaign Donations

Following up on my earlier post on Saskatchewan Provincial Political Donations, here is a look at the top 5 donors for the last municipal election in 2012. While this information is publicly available on the City of Saskatoon website, as with Elections Saskatchewan, the required filings by candidates are only available in pdf format. F&#$ing pain in the ass. Now that I have this spreadsheet all set up, I’ll be adding the 2016 info once it becomes available.

While currently displaying the top five donors (more if there are “ties”) for each candidate, this embedded spreadsheet should allow you to also sort by individual, corporate etc donor and if the slicer on the right works, you can select only the candidates you want to display.



Special thanks to the other Hilary (twitter) (blog) who got this ball rolling several years ago and asked for my help creating the original spreadsheet of this info. She not only sparked my interest in the 2012 data, but working on the municipal spreadsheet spurred me to do the provincial as well.


Merchant Credit Card Fees – Walmart Edition

A recent news item has popped up on one of my favorite topics, merchant credit card fees. Walmart Canada has announced that they will stop accepting VISA as a form of payment, with the phase-out to begin in mid-July in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The debate over merchant fees is one that is frequently not well reported by the media, and often is nothing more than the media regurgitating some absurd clap-trap from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

Often lost in the lackluster reporting is that the credit card companies like VISA and MasterCard generate their revenue from the merchant fees. Their SEC 10-k disclosures are clear, “Visa is not a bank and does not issue cards, extend credit or set rates and fees for account holders on Visa-branded cards and payment products“. It is the bank or financial institution that issues the card that gets the credit card interest and other fees. The relevance of which will become apparent shortly.

As I have written previously, merchants receive benefits from paying merchant fees, something that is too often overlooked by the media, and groups like the CFIB purposely avoid mentioning. Continue reading

Saskatchewan Provincial Political Donations

I’ve been working on a little project for the last little while. Poking away at it whenever I had a bit of free time. Saskatchewan Elections posts the disclosures of donations that political parties must file. Transparency good. Unfortunately they are all in pdf format. Which sucks for a data cruncher like me.

What I really want is all the data in a form I can actually use. Like a spreadsheet. So I’ve been taking the information from the disclosure documents and putting it into a spreadsheet. I am experimenting with making this available to other people and the general public. I am not sure what the best way to publish this info is, so I am trying out Google Sheets embedding selected ranges from my Excel spreadsheet. We’ll see how it goes.

All of these numbers come from the Annual Fiscal Period Returns filed by Provincial political parties.

Below is a summary (generated via pivot table), but it is not yet complete. I’m still adding data, so these numbers may change, and some of the blanks will fill in as I add more data. (I am currently experimenting with embedding from Onedrive, so things might be in a bit of flux until I get it how I want).


By donor type (itemized donors >$250; grey indicates data has yet to be entered.):


By donor type including small (<$250) donors):

(There is a pivot table slicer on the far right which may or may not work when embedded.)


Top 10 corporate donors:

(You can change the donor type filter at the top to individual if you want to see those, or scroll to the right and try the slicers.)

(note the large sums from Affinity Credit Union and CIBC Wood Gundy are loans. Loans have to be recorded on the party’s annual returns as a contribution. The first pivot table above has been filtered to exclude loans.)


Are Used Buses Really Saving Money?

For years, Saskatoon Transit has been purchasing used buses as a means of replacing or adding vehicles in a cost effective way. But is purchasing and refurbishing used buses really saving money?

On the agenda of the recent meeting of the City of Saskatoon’s Standing Policy Committee on Transportation is the recommendation to Council that a tender for the structural refurbishment of five (yes, five. Remember that number) articulated buses be awarded at a cost of $660,000. That’s just structural, not engines, drive-train, or interiors.

While I am sure these buses do need to be refurbished if they are to continue service, we are now starting to see the true cost of the “Buy Used” strategy that has been in place at Saskatoon Transit for many years. The report to council section on “replacement versus refurbishment cost comparison” only compares the cost of replacement or refurbishment, with no mention of the acquisition or operating costs to date, or total cost of ownership for the life of the vehicles.

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Public Transit and Development Levies

In the agenda for the upcoming Saskatoon City Council Executive Committee meeting is a report to council from Hemson Consulting on “Financing Growth” that council commissioned in late 2013. This report indirectly identifies an area in which provincial legislation and the actions of the city can be improved, especially with respect to Public Transit and how it is funded.

Of the ways that a city can fund its operations and capital costs the most obvious and easily identifiable to the average citizen are property taxes, user fees, and funds from higher levels of government. A less well known but significant source are development levies.

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The Cost of Extending Transit Service

With the 10 Days for Transit campaign about to begin, some ideas for improving Saskatoon Transit have started to pop up on Twitter. Among them is extending transit service later into the night or increasing the pathetic frequency of service in the evening hours.

I started to wonder, what would be the cost of extending transit service?

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Repealing the Employee Stock Option Deduction and Unanswered Questions

Dead For Tax Reasons

As you all know, the federal NDP announced on Friday it would repeal the employee stock option deduction and reallocate the savings to support low and middle income earners. I have long been writing about this deduction and would like to think this policy idea is founded, at least in part, on my work (work that is joint with Daniel Sandler who wrote the book on venture capital and tax incentives). If it is, it makes me feel at least someone is listening at least some of the time.

I thought I would give you some background information in this area and allow you to form your own thoughts. I certainly understand that not everyone has a good grasp on this very technical issues. I’ll go right back to basics so even those of you without any knowledge in this area can get informed. As a result, this will…

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Can Saskatoon Transit walk the walk?

In the City of Saskatoon’s long term goals for Saskatoon Transit is the objective to increase ridership to 62 rides (annually) per capita by 2023 (see Proposed Performance Measures and Targets on pg 481 here). Currently ridership is just shy of 40 per capita, and as I wrote to the StarPhoenix, in 1966 it was 80.

That’s a pretty lofty goal for a city administration and transit system that saw ridership growth of 3.6% annually since 2009, with the City predicting zero ridership growth for 2015 in the recent 2015 budget.

Adjusted for population growth of 2.8%, the ridership increase since 2009 is only 0.8%, yet the City’s not-very long term goal of 62 rides per capita by 2023, just eight years away. To reach 62 per capita, Saskatoon Transit will have to nearly double actual ridership numbers from about 10 million per year to 20 million per year. This assuming the City’s medium-growth population projections. A ridership increase rate of 8.8% annually. Yes, annually.

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