Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ticket to ride

My travels have caused me to use public transportation, something I rarely do at home. I got thinking of the unsuccessful attempts to make Saskatoon Transit viable. We had the big study and public focus groups. All were convinced that bigger/better buses, Internet connections, dedicated lanes, expanded hours of service, bike racks, the U-Pass, would bring the riders in droves. The most recent idea, being employer subsidized passes, is the next proposed big fix. Interestingly enough the pilot program is proposed for city hall employees. Hmmm. That means as tax payers we subsidize transit with property tax and then we subsidize it again by paying a portion of city hall employee bus passes. Quite the fix. (I certainly hope this is considered a taxable benefit.)

In Guatemala and Belize, public transportation is the means of travel by the majority of residents. The various routes are run by private licensed contractors. On one leg of the journey the bus we took was the equivalent of a nine passenger van - and 21 people were squeezed into it. It was hot, humid and dusty but no one complained - with the possible exception of myself. The infrastructure is poor, the vehicles lack suspension and air conditioning and storage is restricted to the roof rack. The bus ran on time and was relatively cheap. And I discovered were all our old school buses go when nearing the time of expiration in North America. They are used here for the long haul trips. And people cheerfully get on and ride, visiting along the way with their fellow passengers and amusing themselves with the tourists. I thought poverty must be the reason people climbed aboard - but they all had cell phones and picked up snacks along the way no one seemed particularly hard done by - with the exception of myself.

I believe the difference is expectation. No one here expects luxury or comfort. There is no expectation of government subsidy. They just expect to get from A to B in reasonable time at a reasonable cost. Its an attitude thing and all the money invested in Saskatoon Transit is not going to change the attitude of our public. As long as they can afford to drive, Saskatoon residents will view "Ticket to Ride" as an old Beatles hit.


  1. maybe we should stop subsidizing car ownership as a city, stop building roads, plowing the streets, etc. Think of the money we would save as taxpayers.

    Of course when the roads go to pot(holes) (well more so then they are already) that would probably make taking the bus hard as well.

  2. When the infrastructure and environmental costs are tallied, Saskatoon drivers really can't afford to drive.

    The problem is, as noted above, externalities to the cost of driving equation are not factored in to vehicle ownership.

    We're dumping 300 million public dollars alone into one freeway extension/bridge. That's ten times Transit's annual budget. Where's the outrage over that?

    Start looking beyond your hood ornament to see the big picture.

  3. Good start to the comments...I'd have to agree with the two above comments. I like the idea of City employees having subsidized bus service as a benefit. Considering car allowances and parking spaces are benefits that many employees receive, why not just subsidize bus pass (or make car allowances, transportation allowances). It makes more sense than just subsidizing car use.

  4. I agree in principle with some of what is said above, with the exception of buying city employees bus passes, but is there no thought to the practical implications?

    It is nice to encourage public transportation but the city is not doing anything to make it any more economic. Continuing to spread the city out further only makes implementing public transportation more difficult. The way Saskatoon is designed is not supportive of public transportation no matter how environmental some say it is

  5. Public transit is a necessity not an option, it is a service not a right and most importantly it needs to be progressive. It can only be as progressive as the city it is in, running 21st century transit systems with 20th century thinking will not work. The City of Saskatoon continues to grow outward and insists on providing transit service to all neighborhoods, sooner or later transit will have to serve only the areas it can serve well and far flung suburbs will have to be serviced by park and ride locations. I think the current transit administration is trying very hard to bring our system up to date. We have payed millions on band-aid solutions to a host of consultants and nothing has really changed, but now local managers from within transit are making significant and meaningful changes that just might bring back the prestege to our system. Public transit is always going to be subsidised but let's try and get better value for the million+ dollars we spent on transit every month.

  6. Perhaps some of the above commenters could consider the ramifications of not keeping up with traffic infrastructure. You know, little things like long wait times for emergency services.

    Or increased costs for products and services that require delivery in this city.

    Or reduced economic productivity due to longer trips to given destination.

    Or a reduction of lifestyle due to increased inconvenience of getting anywhere.

    Or a indeterminate number of other issues which might result if more citizens continue with juvenile, short-sighted and generalized comments regarding city traffic issues such as the ones I read above.

    I agree that we need a public transit system to enable mobility for citizens, especially for the less affluent out there. But infrastructure upgrades, in addition to getting people from here to there more efficiently, will also improve transit service. Waiting in backed-up traffic is bad enough; waiting in backed-up traffic on a bus is far worse.

    Transit needs continued taxpayer support, no doubt. However, it might be time to consider the fact that we don't have a big traffic problem in Saskatoon as compared to other major cities in Canada, and that we simply have not had a critical mass population to sustain a considerable ridership.

    Moreover, if you're looking at opportunities for city hall to divert resources, you'd be better off calling for them to scrap the ridiculous windmill project on the landfill. There's $5 we could invest in improved service.

    By the way, I say this as a user of public transit. How many commenters here can say the same?

  7. To above...

    All your plights would be solved by encouraging more users of public transit - one bus has the potential to take 30+ vehicles off of the road.

    Our "Calgary Jr." approach to development is completely unsustainable, and is what is driving all of the problems in the first place that you claim are solved by increased traffic infrastructure.

  8. I agree that public ntransportation is a necessary service. In my travels I have parked my vehicle and used public transportation because it was faster and more convenient that driving a car. It was efficient. That is my point. I don't need bells and whistles. I need good service. In many Europeon cities a day pass can get you off and on a bus as many times as you want. You can travel eight blocks or eight miles. You can buy your day pass at a vending machine, hotel or many retail outlets. And if your caught on a bus without a pass, the fine if horrific. But until we change our mentality and expectations for public transportation our system is doomed to failure.


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