Tag Archives: City Council

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.

 

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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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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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Saskatoon Transit and the declining price of oil

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.

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University Bridge and Les MacPhlawson

I just had to respond to StarPhoenix columnist Les MacPherson’s piece on the upcoming repairs to the University Bridge. So I sent this letter to the editor:

As Les MacPherson is lamenting the necessary repairs to the University bridge, he not only mis-counted the number of lanes on Sid Buckwold bridge, he failed to mention other pertinent details.

 At its peak, Sid Buckwold bridge traffic volume was over 50,000 vehicles per day. Since South Circle Drive bridge opened, volume has dropped 30%, and volume on Broadway bridge by 15%. That covers more than half the volume of University bridge. Even before South Circle opened, volume on Sid Buckwold typically drops by more than 50% in the summer, when the repairs are planned. That covers the remaining University Bridge volume.

 When Sid Buckwold bridge opened in 1966, Saskatoon Transit was providing over 8 million rides per year to a city population of about 100,000 or 80 rides per capita annually with a fleet of 40 buses.

 Today Saskatoon Transit does about 10 million rides annually to a population in excess of 250,000. Less than 40 rides per capita annually with a fleet four times as large.

 During the repairs, the one available lane on University bridge should alternate east and west direction and be restricted to Saskatoon Transit and emergency vehicles only. This would prevent a massive re-routing of almost every single transit route that crosses the river and provide a much more efficient means of moving large numbers of people.

 Les’ “water through a straw” analogy is also flawed. Water cannot change its route, carpool, ride a bike, walk, or take the bus. Water cannot choose.

University Bridge and Bus Lanes

As I was skimming the agenda for the City of Saskatoon’s recent Standing Policy Committee on Transportation (SPC-T) a late item was added just prior to the meeting on January 12 , 2015. It was an update on the plan for the University bridge refurbishment scheduled for 2015. In it the City detailed it’s plan to close the bridge to all but one lane, with that lane only open to eastbound traffic, weekdays from 6 am to 8 pm.

It doesn’t appear that the City considered any other option except for allowing the contractors bidding on this contract to include an alternate price and schedule if they were allowed a full closure. Potentially a viable option, if the work was completed quickly enough.

Another option crossed my mind, resulting a hurried email to all City Councilors on Monday morning, in the hope that at least some of them would read it before the meeting. Councilor Davies was the only one to respond and given his questions during the meeting he was thinking along the same lines.

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Property Tax “increases”?

Every year in late November and early December there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the “property tax increase” in the City budget. As I wrote in a letter to the editor, if the proposed “increase” is anything less than the inflation the City faces plus population growth then you effectively have a tax decrease.

As I’ve been digging through the City’s website, annual reports and financial statements my main focus has been trying to collect useful data with respect to Saskatoon Transit, as you may have noticed from some of my other posts.

I have also managed to collect property tax increases, population growth figures and the like and have noticed a predictable, but potentially troubling trend.

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Saskatoon Transit and Budget funny business

Recently during budget deliberations by Saskatoon City Council Mandy Chen made a presentation to City Council on behalf of Bus Riders of Saskatoon objecting to the proposed increase to transit fares.

While I have a few quibbles regarding the percentage of people who use transit, one of her arguments piqued my interest and my “spidey sense”. She pointed out that per the preliminary budget, the fare increase was expected to bring in an additional $226,000 and that even a small increase in ridership would easily equal or exceed this.

Since my “spidey sense” went off I decided to go back and have another look at the preliminary budget, and look back at previous ones. Interestingly in the 2014 budget, Saskatoon Transit budgeted for a increase in fare revenue of $400,000 from the 2014 fare increase and additional $350,000 from ridership growth.

The report to council included in the agenda to the budget meetings held December 2-3, 2014, Saskatoon Transit budgeted an increase to revenue from the proposed fare increase of $313,000 (more than what the preliminary budget says), and ZERO from ridership growth. Saskatoon Transit predicted a 0% increase in ridership for 2015 over 2014.

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