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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
Just last month Saskatoon City Council declined to approve a fare increase requested by Saskatoon Transit as part of the 2015 budget.
Nicely deconstructed here, the proposed fare increase would have netted Saskatoon Transit a whopping $313,175 in revenue, even with some funny business in their projections. Council declined to approve the proposed fare increase, due in large part to public pressure, the efforts of Bus Riders of Saskatoon, and the lingering backlash over the City’s illegal lockout of Saskatoon Transit users.
With crude oil prices falling I started to wonder what the effect would be for Saskatoon Transit. Unfortunately, good, detailed information isn’t publicly available so I had to make do with resources such as the City of Saskatoon Municipal Manual, Statistics Canada, National Resources Canada, and of course, Google.
Since I have no idea what the City pays for fuel I used retail prices in my analysis. So my estimates will probably be a little high, depending on what kind of discount the City gets as a bulk customer. Try not to get caught up in the numbers, it’s the relative change that is the important part.
Given the current lockout of both the users and employees of Saskatoon Transit there has been increasing talk regarding the low level of public transit usage in Saskatoon.
Local journalist Phil Tank ( @thinktankSK ) posted this on Twitter recently.
The numbers for 2011 match the National Household Survey (NHS) numbers from Statistics Canada. Phil (like many others) seem to make the false assumption that these numbers include “all trips taken in the city, from commutes to Sunday drives.”