Tag Archives: Transit

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 Repairs, Emergency Services, and Transit

The University Bridge is scheduled for repairs this year and as discussed here the City’s plan (so far) is to keep one lane open to all vehicles, eastbound only.

Based on the presentation at the Standing Policy Committee on January 12, 2015, the City didn’t appear to consider any other options, other than allowing the successful contractor to close all four lanes completely if that meant they could get the work done more quickly and minimize the disruption to automobile drivers.

This decision appears to have been based entirely on the average traffic volumes on the bridge, with the eastbound volume slightly higher than the westbound. So of course the one available lane should be allocated to the westbound traffic only. University has the least seasonal decrease in volume though volume and capacity of the other bridges doesn’t appear to have been considered.

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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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Transit and subsidizing Provincial responsibility

I mentioned in one of my previous posts that sooner or later City Council will have to start making some hard and potentially unpopular choices. I’m going to outline one of them here.

Back in 2006 the City made an agreement with the Province to provide discounted bus passes to people who were clients of social services. Currently if you are receiving benefits from the Saskatchewan Assistance Plan (SAP otherwise know as “welfare”), the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement (SES), and a couple of other programs, you can purchase a discounted bus pass for $27. The Province currently pays the City $24.50 for each of these passes. This is a significant discount from the full retail price of an adult pass ($81), or even the “low income discount” of 20% (or $64.80) that Saskatoon Transit offers (since 2010) to people who meet the threshold.

Now this effectively means that the City is picking up an expense that should be paid for by the Province. If the Province wants the people in the aforementioned programs to have a bus pass, the Province should be purchasing them from Saskatoon Transit at the full retail price, or at least the 20% low income discount price, which is also the same as the price of the Eco-Pass offered to employers.

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Downtown Density

Recently City Council approved a zoning change (really just a variation by agreement) to the proposed City Centre Tower on 22nd street between 3rd and 4th avenue. The proposed development will have two towers, one of which will be an office tower, the other, residential and commercial.

According to the report to council, this development “supports the City’s long-range goal of increasing the population of Downtown to 15,000 people by providing approximately 290 residential units.” The mayor often talks about increasing the number of people living in the downtown, sometimes the goal is 10,000, sometimes it’s 30,000. As I touched on in The Transit Option, and as OurYXE touched on, neither the mayor, or the City administration really seem to understand what a population increase of that magnitude will take.

According to the City’s neighbourhood profiles, there are about 2800 people living downtown. With 1,974 dwellings (1600 apartments in buildings 5 stories or higher), means you have about 1.42 people per dwelling on average. To get to 10,000 people you need to get another 7,200 people living downtown.

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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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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.

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Saskatoon Transit, “Choice” Riders, and Hard Decisions

Fortunately the illegal lockout of Saskatoon Transit riders ended before my bike commuting season ended. I switched over to Transit just after Remembrance day, so my bike commuting season for 2014 was about 7 months. So if I was to answer the question in the National Household Survey (NHS) detailed in The 4%? I would have to answer that cycling is my primary means of commuting to and from work.

On the actual commuting front, so far so good. I haven’t encountered any major problems, other than a few slight weather related delays. I suppose I’ve been fortunate. From the complaints on Twitter and on the Bus Riders of Saskatoon Facebook page, I appear to be in the minority. But since I’m white, male, and middle class, I’m used to that. (insert uproarious laughter here)

I’ve gotten involved with the Bus Riders of Saskatoon organization that got its genesis in early September when Saskatoon Transit announced just before the labour day long weekend that they didn’t have enough operational buses to provide full service. It dawned on me one day after attending one of the meetings that I was a minority, at least in that group. I’m a “choice rider” of transit. I use transit as my primary means to commute outside of biking season, but I have a vehicle and could drive to work. But I don’t, and I don’t really want to. The reasons I use transit are some of the very things Saskatoon Transit must improve upon in order to attract more riders. The people who use transit because they have no other viable option aren’t going anywhere.  I have a kid in high school that needs the bus to get there and back. One of the “captive riders”.

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