On 9 November 2022, Peter Gallén delivered the following submission on behalf of Bus Riders of Saskatoon to City Council’s Standing Policy Committee on Transportation (SPCOT) in response to Saskatoon Transit’s report regarding Approaches to Address Saskatoon Transit’s Long-Term Fleet Renewal and Funding Strategy (which was a consequence of the City Auditor’s previous work).

Peter’s submission was a continuation of Robert Clipperton’s submission two days earlier to the same committee (see post below this one) regarding the City Auditor’s report into his Investigation of Service Disruptions in Saskatoon Transit.

Peter’s comments regarding the need to minimize the number of new diesel buses by purchasing Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) instead seems to have been heard, since several Councillors took up the issue at the subsequent City Council meeting on November 21. In Peter’s words:

“Good afternoon. My name is Peter Gallén. I am here today on behalf of Bus Riders of Saskatoon.

On Monday, Robert Clipperton presented to you on our behalf about ‘raising the bar’ on the transit service. My presentation here is a continuation of that sentiment.

First of all, my intent here is to emphasize that Bus Riders sees Fleet Renewal as one of the integral and indispensable solutions to the service problems identified in the Auditor’s Report on Transit Service Disruptions.

Moreover, Bus Riders wants to emphasize that the 97 buses mentioned in the Fleet Renewal Report that are required daily on the road should be viewed as an absolute minimum. Actual, ongoing Fleet Renewal needs to be based on a larger number.

We commend Saskatoon Transit for putting forward a long-awaited purchasing plan to replenish the Transit Fleet. Also we cannot overstate our pleasure at seeing the conversion of the Fleet to electric buses begin at long last.

However, Bus Riders is disappointed that so many months have been allowed to pass before placing the order for the two previously approved battery-electric buses, or ZEVs for short. These buses are crucial in allowing Transit to gain both operational and maintenance experience with ZEVs in varying real-time conditions through the daily grind and over the long haul.

I want to state clearly that Bus Riders prefers Option 3 in the Report but with certain modifications. Let me highlight the specific changes that Bus Riders would like to see in Option 3 and express the hope that these will be considered carefully in your deliberations.

As for the immediate purchase of three (3) articulating and five (5) conventional 40-foot diesel buses, Bus Riders acknowledges the reasons for this purchase outlined in the report. Nevertheless, as Bus Riders has indicated to the City before, from a Climate Change perspective, it is just plain wrong. We can understand the proposal, however, given Saskatoon Transit’s current problems in getting sufficient numbers of any kind of buses on the road, but we regard it as a measure of last resort. Also, since Saskatoon Transit does not yet have much experience in operating and maintaining electric buses, we can see that it might indeed be prudent to acquire only a few ZEVs very early in the replenishing program.

However, we do strongly object to the proposed continued purchase of additional diesel buses within another section of the acquisition plan. It is incomprehensible that Option 3 proposes the purchase of THIRTY (30!) new articulating DIESEL(!) buses late into the 2020s and even into the 2030s.

Finally, Bus Riders is fully aware that the current electrical supply to the Civic Operations Centre (COC) can only charge 30 electric buses at a time using trickle-chargers only. It is important that the City undertake an immediate upgrade of the electrical supply to the COC. With many more trickle- and rapid-charging stations available at the COC, the purchase of these additional diesel buses can surely be avoided!

In closing, Bus Riders of Saskatoon asks you to approve and fund Option 3 for Fleet Renewal, and get more Power to the COC as soon as possible, so that the 30 articulated buses to be purchased between 2025 and 2031 can indeed be battery-electric ZEVs.

Thank you for your time and for the opportunity to present to you.”

[Extract from page 7 of Adminstration’s Option 3: “To balance the influx of new buses against the varying age of the existing fleet, the City would purchase three articulating buses (to replace the three articulating buses retired in summer 2022) and five conventional buses in 2023 using STHP funding, 15 conventional ZEVs in each of 2024 and 2025 with ZETF funding, an additional 25 conventional ZEVs in 2026 through 2031 using ICIP funding, and 30 diesel articulating buses in 2025 through 2031 using ICIP funding.”]

Investigation of Service Disruptions in Saskatoon Transit

On 7 November 2022 our spokesperson, Robert Clipperton, delivered the following submission on behalf of Bus Riders of Saskatoon to City Council’s Standing Policy Committee on Transportation in response to the City Auditor’s report into his Investigation of Service Disruptions in Saskatoon Transit.

Robert’s insightful comments on the human cost of service disruptions had a real impact on the Committee. Moreover, a light-bulb went up for some Councillors that Transit should perhaps be regarded as an Essential Service – just like water and power – because any disruptions or unpredictability in the transit service has real impact on people’s daily lives. If this change in attitude is indeed accepted and implemented by the City, then transit service should become much more reliable and dependable in the future – not to say much more important and well-regarded as well. In Robert’s words:

“Good Afternoon. My name is Robert Clipperton and I represent Bus Riders of Saskatoon. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today regarding the Auditor’s Report. I would like to thank the members of the Committee as well for including Bus Riders in the list of stakeholders referred to in the terms of reference for the investigation. I would like to thank the City Auditor for meeting with us twice during the course of his investigations.

Although the report investigates the root causes of the service disruptions, we feel that perhaps the roots investigated weren’t deep enough. Perhaps the bar for service has been set too low.

I must say that when the report mentioned the need to improve governance processes and the need to obtain accurate and timely data for informed decision making, I assumed that there would be recommendations as to the sorts of information that is presented to Council to allow them to make informed decisions. It is Council after all that approves the operating budget for Transit and capital expenditures such as for new buses. Bus Riders has long wondered why proposals to increase week-end service hours for example never get to the Council table for deliberation. We wonder why, when the asset management report presented to Council in August of 2021 predicted service disruptions, no measures came to Council for approval which might have prevented the situation we saw in the winter of 2022. These reflect governance processes and they go beyond management practices.

We were pleased to read that “Transit is an essential service that the City provides to its residents.” We don’t think that the service levels for our bus service would be tolerated in other essential services such as Saskatoon Light and Power or the Sewer and Water Utility.

We were pleased that the Auditor recognized that advance notice to riders of service disruptions needs to be earlier than a few hours in advance. Perhaps the worst example of this was the service alert that came out at 4:00 pm informing us that the 3:56 pm bus run was cancelled. You can’t run a service that is so close to the edge that there is not enough room in the system to accommodate traffic accidents and water main breaks let alone bus break-downs. All of these charts and graphs in the report are great but they obscure the human cost.

The dead tired shift worker who gets off work in time to take that bus at 4:15 but learns that there won’t be a bus until 5:15.

The single mother with two pre-schoolers who learns that they will have to wait another 30 minutes in the wind and cold. The person who misses their dental appointment due to a cancelled or late bus knowing that they will be charged for a missed appointment. The person who is threatened with dismissal if they are late for work once again. The person who misses that specialist appointment that they have waited months for.

The report notes that “Transit deployed 84 buses everyday in the winter of 2021-22 but that in prior years the book out was 102 buses.” Why was there a cut in 18 buses? Do we find the answer in the complaints by riders that the bus they wanted to board was full? Do we find the answer in the drop in the planned number of monthly service hours by close to 3000 hours between March and September? The report doesn’t mention service frequency cuts from 30 to 40 minutes on some routes, or routes that were shortened or amalgamated to try to offer a minimum of service with fewer buses. The report addresses service disruptions to a service that had already been cut back to try to deal with a shortage of resources to keep it operating.

We wonder if the report addresses maintenance of other than ‘fit to go on the road’ issues. Does it consider heat and air-conditioning that functions properly? Does it include accessibility components such as audible call outs for those with limited vision? Does it include working real time arrival information? Does it include fold-up benches that provide space for wheelchairs and strollers being in working order?

Does it include cleanliness?

We do believe that Transit staff does the best they can with the resources they have but we don’t think those resources are sufficient to provide an essential service. At Budget Time, please provide the resources recommended in the report.

To sum up… we think the bar is too low. An unreliable service is not acceptable. It wouldn’t be for electricity. It wouldn’t be for water. It shouldn’t be for Transit.”

Presentation to the Standing Policy Committee on Transportation, February 1, 2021

Re: Process for Introducing or Expanding Transit within New and Developing Neighbourhoods

Greetings and thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Robert Clipperton and I address you as the spokesperson for Bus Riders of Saskatoon.

Bus Riders would like to communicate our support for the ideas presented in this document and would like to commend the writer, Mr. Shrigley, for the clarity with which it is written.
It has been said that Saskatoon’s transit system was designed to give all parts of the City equally mediocre service and we are pleased to see policy development that will move Transit forward. Most of you will have heard comments from the public at your ward meetings where people complain that they never see more than two people on the bus running through their neighbourhood.

The processes proposed in this report will allow for the flexibility needed to adjust service both up and down. Many of you were in office in about 2016 when the City brought in Jarrett Walker to address Council on modern transit systems. He cautioned that any improvements will require change and that every change will bring complaints. He said something to the effect that route improvements that benefit ten people are likely to ‘ruin one person’s life’. That may be hyperbole, but we need to be prepared to hear from a few understandably disappointed people as we improve the system. Neighbourhoods differ and it makes no sense to offer as intensive service to a neighbourhood such as The Willows for example as is offered to say Fairhaven. To quote Jarrett Walker: “No agency should pretend to be meeting both coverage and ridership goals with the same dollar.”

We are pleased to see direction in this document which recommends revised processes whereby service levels will be data driven. Existing and potential ridership levels are recognized and there is an articulated path to reduce service to an area where ridership persistently remains low. It takes into account the high density corridor and infill strategies as outlined in the Growth Plan and the implementation of the eagerly awaited Bus Rapid Transit service.

When the 2019 budget was finalized Bus Riders was surprised to see a proposal to add $350,000 to the Transit budget to expand service into Rosewood. There had been little discussion of this request at Council, the item appeared right at the end of the budget discussions as a separate little add-on and was not supported by the usual report from administration. It was approved with little to no discussion. Bus Riders was dismayed.

If there was an extra $350,000 to spend on improved Transit in Saskatoon, could there not have been consideration of enhancements which would have impacted more people? Enhancements such as expanded service hours on week-ends – especially Sunday mornings when some people have real trouble getting to work, or late night hours on certain routes for those exiting entertainment venues downtown on Friday and Saturday nights, or making child and high school student fares affordable? We would like to see the preparation of a costed list of service enhancements so Council can choose between beneficial options rather than approving expansion into neighbourhoods simply because they are there.

The only thing we would take issue with in the report is that it says that there have been no “environmental implications identified.” Of course there are environmental implications. Any measure which boosts transit ridership and which results in fewer vehicles on the road helps Saskatoon reach the targets laid out in the city’s Low Emissions Community Plan.

Thank you for your time today.

Transit’s proposal and the Councillors insightful discussion on the topic is available here.