City Council and Transit Funding

As I’ve been digging through the City of Saskatoon’s budgets, financial statements and various other documents I’ve been able to find on the City’s website, I have tried to start collecting information and analyzing it as best I can.

Going back to 2003 (as far back as City budgets appear to be available online) City Council has budgeted about $1.9 million dollars on average per year to replacing buses. It’s not always clear from the available information how much of this is meant for NEW buses, as opposed to buying used ones and refurbishing them, or refurbishing buses Saskatoon Transit already has. Wherever possible I have tried to exclude these amounts in order to focus on new buses.

Saskatoon Transit is known for having one of the oldest fleets in Canada. Apparently bus enthusiasts (yes, they exist) actually travel to Saskatoon to ride on buses so old, no other transit system still has buses that old still in active service. Average fleet age in Canada (2008 CUTA) is 8.7 years. Provincially the average in Saskatchewan is 12.7 years. Only Newfoundland & Labrador is older at 13 years. There’s a reason the industry often refers to typical transit bus we are all familiar with as “12-year buses”. Generally they are designed and built to last 12 years. After that they need significant refurbishment. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) spends $170,000 on a refurbishment. Edmonton spends $100,000 to refurbish a bus. Somehow Saskatoon Transit does it for half that. Or that’s what they budget anyway.

Since 2003, on average the City has budgeted sufficient funds to replace about four buses per year. Back in 2003 that would have made for a replacement cycle of about 31 years. The City was only budgeting enough money to replace each unit in the fleet once every 31 years. In the 2015 budget, the City has allocated just $990,000 for fleet replacement, enough for two new buses (maybe). This is an 81 year replacement cycle. I know you can extend the life of a bus with mid-life refurbishments, but at some point you can no longer refurbish a vehicle. Or rather, it becomes no longer cost effective to do so.

I plotted what City Council has budgeted over the years toward fleet replacement and what should have been budgeted if one were to target a 10 or 15 year replacement cycle. This is what you get:


Bus replacement funding

The blue is what Council budgeted, and the red and green show how much should have been budgeted annually for 10 and 15 year replacement cycles, respectively. That spike in 2008 was when the City got some one time Federal funds, and yes, those dips mean they budgeted absolutely zero dollars in 2003, 2004, and 2006. In total over the last 13 years the City would have needed to budget and spend approximately $74 million dollars on fleet replacement (10 year replacement cycle) or $50 million dollars (15 year replacement cycle). Instead they budgeted less than $25 million in total over that 13 year time span. Arguably it would have been less if not for the one time Federal funding in 2008.

I’m curious to know how many 30 to 80 year old police cars, fire trucks, dump trucks, graders etc. that the City owns. If an 80 year replacement cycle is acceptable for Transit, why not for Fire, Police, and Public Works?

I know the “keep taxes low” mantra usually gets you elected in this town, but at what price? Deferring maintenance and capital asset replacement can only go on so long before you get….Saskatoon Transit.


One thought on “City Council and Transit Funding

  1. Pingback: Transit and subsidizing Provincial responsibility | yxesimonsays

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