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?
Since Saskatoon Transit is no longer considered a “utility” by the City, annual reports from Transit are no longer available (to my knowledge). It is difficult to know what their operating costs are since detailed information isn’t readily available.
Fortunately the Ontario Municipal Benchmarking Initiative (OMBI) offers some useful information. Despite its name, several cities outside Ontario are part of this initiative that collects data from municipalities in order to make “apples to apples” comparisons of municipal services.
The median operating cost (including amortization of capital costs) of providing transit service according to OMBI is $131 per hour per vehicle, though this includes cities that have light rail systems. Excluding those, and three regional systems (where costs are 20-47% higher), operating costs average $108.20 per hour per vehicle.
Currently transit service in the evenings Monday through Saturday for most routes operates on an hourly interval, save some routes that don’t operate at all in the evening. I have not (yet) included increased or extended service on Sundays and holidays. Several different options were evaluated as follows.
- Increase service intervals from hourly to every 30 minutes on routes that operate in the evenings, and add hourly service on routes that do not currently have evening service at all.
- Increase service interval to every 30 minutes on all routes.
- Increase service interval to every 15 minutes on all routes.
- Extend each of the above options by two hours later than current service.
This would probably mean an property tax increase of anywhere from $32 to $142 dollars annually on an “average” house, or between 2% and 9% increase to the municipal portion of property tax. Given City Council’s propensity to spend hours debating reducing weekly garbage pickup by two more months a year to save just $140,000 annually, it seems unlikely that any increase in evening service will be forthcoming from this Council.
I truly hope that one day Saskatoon will really become a “transit city”, for now the cost of increasing and extending evening service is probably too high, relative to the number of people who would use such service. No doubt it will be much easier to sell Council and automobile users on improving service during the day, especially during the morning and afternoon passenger volume peaks when what passes for “congestion” in this city is at its worst.
But that will attract more people use public transit regularly and soon they will demand improved service outside of peak hours. It’s just not going to happen overnight.