Free Fares for Children on Saskatoon Transit

 As an invited Stakeholder to the public engagements on the proposed expansion in September 2024 of Free Fares for Children up to (typically) about 13 years of age, BRS provided the following written submission upon completion of the consultations:

Bus Riders of Saskatoon Position Paper – April 15, 2024

Background: During pre-budget discussions in August of 2023. Bus Riders of Saskatoon asked Governance and Priorities Committee to direct Transit to produce a report on the issue.  After consideration of this report Council directed Transit to institute free fares for children effective September 1, 2024. A number of issues need to be resolved prior to this implementation date.

General Principle:  Bus Riders believes that the free child fare initiative be put in place with as few barriers to use as possible.  Any restrictions that are put in place are most likely to have the greatest adverse effects on those who have the fewest resources to overcome them.

 Issue One: Age Range: Rather than age of the child passenger, school placement should be the criteria. This follows principles that are largely reflected in the current fare structure.  The ‘child fare’ applies to Kindergarten to Grade 8.  Eligibility for the high school fare is not dependent on age but applies to those who can produce a valid high school student card.  At the same time, we must be careful not to exclude children of school age who may not be enrolled in school.

Issue Two: Adult Accompaniment: Transit should not be the agency that determines whether or not a child is old enough to ride the bus without the presence of a supervising adult. This reflects current practice. It is assumed that anyone boarding the bus aged five and up who pays the child fare has been deemed capable enough to do so by the adult who is responsible for them. There will be ten year olds who can use the system very well on their own.  There will be fifteen year olds who can not.  Transit is not a child protection agency.

Issue Three: Enforcement: Enforcement of the ‘child free fare’ can not be considered outside of the general fare evasion and enforcement issue and should be accommodated under existing policies. The expense of creating a system of separate identity passes for young children to qualify for the free child fare would be expensive and is not practical. Provision for school verification identification for mature looking children attending elementary schools should be examined, in consultation with the school boards.  One of our members reports that under the current system, her mature looking son who attends elementary school sometimes feels hassled by drivers when he boards paying the child fare. Using transit should be easy, not only for adults but for children too.

 Issue Four: Statistics: Transit’s need for statistical data has been put forward as justification for a pass system.  Although such data would be valuable for future planning, there are less intrusive sampling techniques which would give Transit sufficient amounts of information.

Issue Five: Evaluation: It is unlikely that the new fare structure can be implemented without a few bumps along the way.  It is important to have mechanisms in place to gather ongoing feedback from stakeholders including adult riders, child riders, anti-poverty groups, school division staff and Transit employees.

BUS ETIQUETTE

by Jenn Ewles

We don’t always know what is expected of us so here are some suggestions to make bus ridership more enjoyable for everyone.

If you are in one of the courtesy seats located at the front of the bus, you will be expected to give it up to someone who is less able-bodied than you are. If you are not in one of these seats but see someone struggling or an elderly person, it is not offensive to offer your seat to them. They will probably appreciate it very much.

If other people can hear your music, then it is too loud. Please use headphones or ear buds. Not everyone will agree with your taste in music. Please keep cell phone conversations as quiet as possible.

If you have food or drinks with you on the bus, please be tidy & take your garbage with you when you exit the bus.

Please hold your bags or tuck them under your seat/feet so as not to clutter the aisles or take up extra seats. If you are standing on the bus, please remove your backpack & set it on the floor between your feet to increase standing room. This will avoid you hitting someone with it as you turn around and it will also ensure you have a proper centre of gravity should the bus need to stop suddenly. Strollers should be folded up whenever possible.

Keep entrances & exits clear so people can safely enter & exit the bus. If your stop is coming up, please do not block the entrance until you are exiting the bus. Whenever possible, please enter at the front & exit through the rear doors.

When entering the bus, please move toward the rear, especially during peak hours when the buses are full. This will ensure maximum ridership.

While waiting in line to board the bus, please be patient. Do not cut in front of others. Do not push or shove. This will ensure that no one gets trampled on or pushed under the bus. It is a courtesy to let less able-bodied people on the bus first. Remember that it is better to miss the bus than to injure another person.

Please keep your feet off the seats around you. First & foremost, this is a safety issue. Just like in a car, if the bus is forced to stop suddenly, you could end up with your knee in your chest causing a much more serious injury. Second, this keeps the bus cleaner for everyone’s benefit.

Refrain from unnecessary communication with the driver while the bus is in motion.

Please refrain from wearing strong scents. You may like your perfume but others may have a serious allergic reaction to it.

Be early to your bus stop so you see the headlights instead of the taillights. If you see your bus coming, be alert. Show your intent to board that particular bus. Many bus stops have multiple buses & bus drivers cannot read your mind. If you are sitting in a shelter, get up, come out & stand in front of the stop. Have your fare ready to go. This saves time & enables the buses to better keep to their schedules.

Smoking, vaping & consuming alcohol is illegal on city buses. 

Listen to your driver & follow his instructions.

Most importantly, think of how you want to be treated by others & be kind. 

FLEET RENEWAL

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.

Reasons to Take the Bus!

Today I want to talk about why taking the bus is actually better than taking your car to many places in the city. I’m going to begin with a statistic that I found hard to believe: the cost of owning a vehicle. Based on a simple internet search, the average automobile costs between $700 and $800 a month. A month. That’s the direct cost to the person and it’s not the cost of driving a luxury car – it’s the average. In addition, whether it’s highways pounded by semi trucks (remember when rail accounted for more shipping, and every third vehicle you met in the countryside wasn’t a giant semi?) or it’s the city streets with their never-ending torrent of vehicles, road maintenance and road expansion costs every one of us every year. These are just collective financial costs, with no mention of land lost to urban sprawl as our cities expand and of the pollution that accrues from so many cars, many of them carrying only one person because we treasure our independence and flexibility so much.

And that’s before we even get into the many things that don’t cost money but that drive us crazy about being our own chauffeurs.

We constantly hear about how the infrastructure isn’t keeping up with the need for more space for our demanding vehicles. Driving at certain times of the day in almost any city is easily slower than riding a bike, but for me, it’s the sheer aggravation of the incessant tiny decisions; creeping forward in traffic so that someone doesn’t cut me off or edge into my lane; not timing the lights correctly, so that I’m constantly starting and stopping; that person who isn’t aggressive enough, or who is too aggressive; the people who don’t go fast enough or who are right behind me because I’m not going fast enough. And this, of course, doesn’t mention the finger waving, fist shaking people who share our city. I don’t have to worry about any of that when I’m on the bus.

I’m not really a public places sort of person, but I find that the bus engine actually makes enough noise that I’m insulated from most of the other passengers. I live on the edge of the city, so I like to read while I sit, but I don’t mind standing; it just doesn’t matter. The main thing is this: I’m much more relaxed on the bus than I am driving my car.

There are other advantages as well, although they don’t influence me as much. I hate driving uptown, so if I go, I take the bus or my bike. Even though there seems to be enough parking, I’m always tethered to wherever I’ve parked, and while I might start near the car, I usually want to do more than one chore. After I’ve walked some distance, I’d really rather pick up a ride at the nearest bus stop than walk back and forth to my car. The alternative is that I get a ticket, and like most people, I find that that kind of ruins the entire trip.

I haven’t been in a traffic accident in awhile, but that’s a non-issue on a bus. Meanwhile, in the last year or so, I’ve seen  five accidents actually happen, or I’ve seen the immediate aftermath.

Parking the tens of thousands of cars in any city is a logistical nightmare, and parking my own isn’t a problem when I take the bus. When I took a class at the university, for instance, there was no parking, so I found space south of fourteenth street, and walked the twenty minutes from there. In all, it never took me less than a half hour to drive and walk to class. A bus takes me almost exactly the amount of time.

Transit avoids many inconveniences of owning a car in Saskatoon. I realize that it takes more time, but since I’ve retired, I have more of that, and I can plan my trips much more easily, especially in the summer. In the winter, since I hate to be cold, I dress so that I don’t suffer, and I haven’t found waiting at a bus stop to be all that bad. For me, the bus is relaxing and mass transit spares the environment. And if I’m riding a bus, I’m out of your way. It also allows me to avoid the time and annoyance of parking; although I have to walk two blocks to my bus stop, getting on the bus at my destination is almost always closer and more convenient. There are drawbacks to taking mass transit anywhere, but there are also benefits. I still need to drive sometimes, but if I’m honest, I’d far rather avoid it, and the bus is the best way for me to do that.

Presentation to Council – Budget 2019

The following is the written text of the presentation Bus Riders of Saskatoon gave to Saskatoon City Council during the deliberations for Budget 2019 (special thanks to Robert Clipperton):

 

Bus Riders of Saskatoon – 2019 Budget Reaction

Over the past few years Saskatoon Transit has done an admirable job in implementing Frequent Transit Corridors (FTCs) along 8th Street, 22nd Street and College/Attridge Drive without increases in the annual operating budget to do so. A purpose of these FTCs was to pilot the concept of Bus Rapid Transit, running buses at roughly 10-minute intervals, while simultaneously contending with unpredictable traffic congestion and train delays.   The FTCs have been a resounding success and resulted in increased ridership which bodes well for the success of BRT.  In order to implement these FTCs without an increase in the operating budget however, there have been some negative impacts on other services.

BRT and the redesign of the conventional network are still several years in the future.  Meanwhile Saskatoon Transit is forced to keep operating a less than ideal hybrid system while simultaneously building the new system. We believe that this double duty is creating untenable stress in the transit system which will only be alleviated by an injection of operating dollars.

This fall there is an unusual number of reports of routes where buses run chronically late, where buses are unacceptably crowded, where passengers are left standing at the bus stop because buses are full, and where service hours don’t meet people’s needs.  In the past, most of these reports have peaked in September and then tapered off in time, but this year, with the increase in ridership, they continue on.

Hardships are evident.  A few examples:

From Ward One:  “Holy cow.  I am so sick of the transit system. My bus was late making me miss my transfer at the university by literally 15 seconds (drove away as I stepped off the bus)… 15 seconds now makes me an hour behind.”

From Ward Six: “Late buses affect me about once a month with getting to work late. I’m worried that I’m looked at as unreliable to my boss and co-workers.”
From Ward One: The bus from my area combined with the transfer issues means that I can leave home at the same time every day and arrive at work in 14 minutes (record so far) or 63 minutes (record so far). Standing at the same bus stop. Same time. Same route. Same transfer. Same job site. How does one schedule for that?”

From Ward Nine: Last month, I cancelled my bus pass that I was fortunate to have my work subsidize for me and made alternative arrangements. It just wasn’t reliable as a source of transportation.”

From Ward Ten:  “I can’t speak to my experience in the past as this is the first time I have taken the bus in close to 20 years but this morning I was waiting for a 7:30 bus at Lowe and Atton but the bus drove by me and 5 people. … . The App said the next bus was 24 minutes away. 1 boy stayed, 3 walked away and I texted my husband who got me and drove me to work.  I can’t rely on the bus to get me to work unless I start going in an hour early every day which is not reasonable.”

From Ward One: “Well today was an extra terrible experience.  Firstly the bus was 20 minutes late first thing this morning so I was 20 minutes late for work.  Then after work I was out waiting at 4:15 on Airport Drive for the bus.  The next bus came at 5:40 ”

Ward Seven “Twice, when trying to get on the #17 Stonebridge, I was told there was no room…. For a pregnant woman in winter, no less.  One who has just left the hospital.  Once I had my son with me, in his stroller, and I flat out refused to wait out in the cold for the next bus.  I literally had to demand they make room.”

From Ward 2: “My kids have had to sit on dirty floors when the bus is full because no one offers a seat for them. They can’t hold onto anything because they are too small and risk getting hurt when the driver steps on the brakes.”

Ward Seven:  “I had to pull my son from the gymnastics class he’s been taking for years because they changed the route (used to be #4)  that went by the gym and the new route (now #11) is consistently extremely late – leaving us no way to get to/from on-time. “

FTCs have been a wonderful innovation to our system which is reflected in increased ridership.  We don’t want to lose new riders in this interim period just when we are at the point of getting a great new transit system.  Transit needs an increase in their operating budget so that there is the flexibility to address these growing pains as they become evident.

I end with a final quote from a transit user:

“I think it is great to see increased riders! Now the City should be working to keep the service successful.”

That’s what Bus Riders of Saskatoon think too.

 

Undercounting Transit Dependency

Far too often when discussing or debating issues involving public transit our elected officials, municipal administration, and the media  quote public transit ridership numbers from the census, claiming that “only 4% of people use public transit”. As I have argued before, this under counts transit usage and additionally is likely to dramatically under count public transit dependency.

Read More