Monday, July 31, 2006

Letter to City Council regarding new transit service for August 14, 2006, meeting

July 31, 2006

His Worship the Mayor
and Members of City Council
City Hall
Saskatoon, SK S7K 0J5

Dear Mayor Atchison and Members of Council:

Re: New Transit Service

Disappointment among users of the new transit service seems to be growing. I feel this can be attributed to the strategic plan’s lack of meaningful citizen engagement during the consultant’s (IBI Group) information gathering stage of the process.

Section 3.1 of the Strategic Plan Study for City of Saskatoon Transit Services – Request for Consultant Proposals January 2004 stated that the communications and consultations plan would include, “Involvement of the public at the community level through local neighbourhood community association meetings. This will assist in the identification of issues and needs at the neighbourhood level.” These never happened.

An August 13, 2004 transit department news release stated that public meetings would be scheduled that fall. They didn’t happen either.

Neither the transit department nor the consultant’s final report explained why these two crucial elements of the study process were eliminated.

The public consultation that was done was mainly by telephone, on-board and on-line surveys using pre-arranged questions. There was no opportunity for in-depth discussion.

The city said there would be “opportunities for the public to review the short and long-term strategies in public open houses.” The open houses that were conducted in April 2006, however, were designed only to help residents learn more about how the routes were changing and the new route numbers, which received final council approval in October 2005. The changes were basically a done deal by the time the open houses took place.

The consultant conducted a series of four focus group meetings with the business community, secondary students and institutions, the High School Boards, low-income advocates, seniors and the mobility challenged. Although minutes were released I believe the meetings were closed to the public.

The meeting with low-income advocates, seniors and mobility challenged had only eight participants, four of whom were from the Access Transit Advisory Committee. There was one seniors representative, two user representatives and one individual from the Get-On-the Bus Coalition. There was no city council representation to hear the comments or concerns. This seems hardly sufficient to address the needs of such a large and vulnerable demographic.

Meetings were also conducted with the Steering Committee and the Technical Working Group. They were advertised on the city’s website as being “public meetings” but in reality were closed to the public.

The consultant apparently met with members of city council but the final report does not provide an overview of their comments. If minutes were taken they were not made public like they were for the focus groups. The final report does not explain why.

What were lacking throughout were face-to-face open public meetings between the consultant, transit staff, city councillors, community associations and everyday transit users.

In a March 30, 2006, transit department news release Mayor Don Atchison said the new changes would include “serving areas that previously didn’t have transit service.” What Atchison never mentioned though were the areas of the city where service was being eliminated and the longer walking distances to bus stops that many riders would soon face. The consultant called it “streamlined”.

The Saskatoon Transit Strategic Plan Study Short-Term Improvement Plan – April 25, 2005 described the strategy used to achieve the proposed new service concepts as “a reorientation of the current regular service network to better serve the University, and other key destinations (Kelsey-SIAST, suburban centers, the airport, industrial areas) and to provide more direct, no-transfer (including cross town) connections, especially to key destinations,” and the “introduction of higher-order BRT service on four corridors”. The plan was crafted to meet the objectives “generally within the existing funding envelope for transit.” In short, service was eliminated or streamlined in some neighbourhoods in order to provide new or better service for customers elsewhere.

Thank you for your time.


Joe Kuchta
Saskatoon, SK

1. August 13, 2004 Transit Services news release
2. Excerpt from Strategic Plan Study for City of Saskatoon Transit Services – Request for Consultant Proposals January 2004
3. Saskatoon Transit Strategic Plan Study “Get Involved” webpage (June 2005)


Lori Coolican, The StarPhoenix
Jeremy Warren, Planet S


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