Mandy Chen Deconstructs Transit Fare Increase in Presentation to City Council

During the December 2 Budget Review Meeting, Mandy Chen gave a presentation to City Council on behalf of Bus Riders of Saskatoon.

The issue being discussed was a proposed transit fare increase. Mandy presented a compelling case against the increase, and in the end, a majority of councillors agreed, voting to keep fares level and investigate ways to improve the transit system. The full text of Mandy’s address follows. Portions omitted due to a time constraint at the council meeting are included here.

 

Council Address Full Text

Good Afternoon Your Worship and Councillors.  My name is Mandy Chen. I’m here today representing a Saskatoon citizen advocacy group aiming at improving transit service: the Bus Riders of Saskatoon. Our group formed in early September this year by the riders for the riders in reaction to the major service deterioration resulting from the June 2014 changes to the preceding routes/schedules.  Currently there are over 300 active Facebook group members and we have held 6 regular meetings in the past 2 months in addition to other collective actions and 2 meetings with the City representatives.

Recently we observed several problems in the 2015 City Budget; we do not think there is enough investment to sustain let alone improve service. At the rate you’ve invested, our research shows that you have only invested enough to replace the current fleet of buses every 81 years. Despite this lack of investment, there is a proposed fare increase of $226,300. This is simply unacceptable. Reasons being, first, Public Transit is for everyone, so the cost should be shared by everyone; second, what is in urgent need right now is ridership increase rather than fare increase; and lastly the current fare is already high considering its service delivery.

The citizens of Saskatoon have just endured a month long illegal lockout. If the lockout has taught us anything, it should be that transit is for everyone, it’s not just the 4% of riders, “the Student, Senior, and Poor.” How so? During the lock-out, parents of school kids needed to adjust/miss their regular work hours to drop-off/pick-up kids; business owners suffered decline in revenue due to lack of customers; employers struggled with shortage of employees; families suffered from drop in income due to inability to attend work or spending substantial amounts of the income on cab fares; drivers experienced increased congestion on the road due to more irregular automobile trips otherwise conducted by transit.  Public transportation helps everyone, it helps to revitalize business districts, allows employers to tap into a larger work force, builds economic revenues and increases property value. Research has shown that every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $30 million in increased business sales.  On an individual level, public transportation saves money, reduces the need for an additional car, and provides people with choices, freedom and opportunities.  Therefore a good transit system serves us all and in turn it should be at cost to us all.  It is truly disappointing to see a proposal of fare increase to be imposed on the Saskatoon riders shortly after a lockout and contrary to the city’s strategic goals.  The importance of transit is well recognized by the city of Saskatoon: last week myself and more than 120 other citizens attended the Growing Forward strategic plan information session and workshop at the TCU place.  Transit was identified and brought forward as one of the 4 key items of discussion.  According to the 2015 Budget, the main focus under the Transportation business line is to explore innovative ways to efficiently transport more people, goods, and services while minimizing environmental impact and promoting sustainability. However, out of the $115.3 million Capital Budget under Transportation, one of the hard-to-spot actual numerical capital investments on Transit is a small $200,000 ridership initiative program. It is almost insulting considering the proposed fare increase revenue is just above that at $226,000.

Exactly how much is $226,000?  It’s easier thinking in terms of ridership. Out of the total population, Saskatoon currently has approximately 12,000 people using transit for daily commute. Now if the ridership were to increase only 0.1%, from the current 4% to 4.1%, there would be more than enough fare revenue generated! How much precisely? That is 300 more regular passengers, it will bringing in $291,000 annually, $70,000 more to balance the book!  Rather than imposing the fare increase on transit users, is 300 more passengers a year really that hard to accomplish? Or has there been a lack of incentives?  Therefore, maintaining the current fare while attracting ridership through more creative fare structure or even lower fare would be much more appropriate and in alignment with the city’s transportation long term strategy, which is to increase transit ridership through education on public transit and to provide service that is safe, convenient, reliable and affordable.

Lastly, Saskatoon transit fees are already high compared to other Canadian cities who have a much better level of service, while Canada overall has more expensive transit compared to its southern neighbours. For example in Calgary it costs $3 for a ride, but the buses there runs every 20 minutes during off-peak time, every 10 minutes at peak-time and every 30 minutes after 8 pm and on weekends. In Portland, US, it costs only $2.5 per ticket with 2 hours allowed for transfer time, and there is a $5.00 day pass available both on buses and in convenience stores.

In conclusion, to increase transit fare without any significant upgrade to the service is simply like a restaurant deciding to charge more for bad dishes in order to deal with a deficit – it will be a lose-lose situation. In summary:

  1. Transit is for everyone.
  2. The city has unrealized potential in bringing in transit revenue.
  3. The more urgent business at hand is to fix and improve the current problematic transit system.

Thus, there is really no logical room for the approval of the proposed transit fare increase. The Bus Riders of Saskatoon, and as citizens of Saskatoon, we strongly urge you to vote against this motion and ensure the related budget items correlate with the city’s priority on Transit and strategic goals.

Samuel Ganton

Samuel Ganton is an architecture graduate. He also plays the fiddle, writes and blogs over at samuelganton.tumblr.com and samuelganton.blogspot.ca, and participates in the online committee for Bus Riders of Saskatoon.