Thinking beyond commuting

During the winter I tend to drive to work and once spring comes, I walk the 16 blocks to work and once spring comes, I can see myself stopping by Collective Coffee on the way home for a coffee or a cold drink to go… so much so that I am wondering if I can get a volume discount deal.

The walk through Riversdale and Caswell Hill is a great one.  Since a lot of our former clients live in some apartments near the Centre, I often run into them on the walk home and have a chance to chat and see if everything is fine and depending on if I take Avenue C or D home, I get to ask myself again what AODBT was thinking with their exterior design of their offices,  and if Safeway looks slow as I walk by, I can go in and see Wendy for a couple of seconds, while trying to steal her mayorship on Foursquare.

I never take the bus to work because it takes me longer to get there as it does to walk which is fine.  When I was in Winnipeg, I was surprised to see the amount of people taking the bus and I was surprised to see how comfortable it is, especially downtown.  Heated bus terminals with doors that close, up to the minute updates on how far away a bus is, and bus shelters that look like they were designed by an architect, not a bulk Plexiglas salesman all add up to a much better winter transit experience.  I know Saskatoon has been trying to add a couple of shelters a year but as I was driving down Warman Road near Assiniboine Drive, this is what I saw (photo from Google Street View)

Google Street ViewShelter from only three sides.  Small, no seats inside (those outside seats probably are used a lot during February), and what kind of protection from the cold is that going to give you?  What’s scary is that it may give you more protection than some of the other bus shelters.  The shelter near the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market doesn’t even have this much protection (Google Street view’s shots are older than the shelter) and the downtown terminal doesn’t fare much better.

Google Street View of Downtown Bus MallAlthough there are benches and it is a little bit more sheltered than your average street but still it isn’t the most pleasant experience and that is what is missing.  For all of the effort into upgrading the Saskatoon fleet of buses, we are forgetting the most unpleasant part of any bus excursion, waiting for the bus.  As I checked out Google Street View of this shelter on Portage Avenue in Winnipeg, I realized it’s architecture matched the building.

Google Street View This shelter is integrated into Portage Place and serves the IMAX theatre.

imageSaskatoon's new bus shelter design The shelter’s aren’t that cheap, between $23,000 to $44,000 each to build but in these two cases, they add a lot to the downtown.  Winnipeg has 6000 stops, around 800 regular shelters and 71 heated shelters.  Saskatoon has under 700 stops and hopes to get to just over 200 shelters.  None heated that I know of.  According to this post by Sean Shaw, the city is considering GPS tracking on all of it’s buses and I assume (hope actually) they are planning to bring online a real time bus tracking service as well.   Saskatoon’s long term ten year transit plan includes adding more bus shelters.  The plan recommends adding up to 215 (unheated) bus shelters (30% of our 700 bus stops), or 22 per year over the course of the plan, up from 3 or 4 per year that are currently installed. This would include shelters at all DART stops.

Why the interest in public transit?  If we are entering into an age of resource scarcity, public transit becomes a bigger and bigger part of our everyday lives for more and more people who will be using it in far different ways than we did before.

When I was going to school, I got on the old #13 bus on Redberry Road and road it to the University.  My bus driver saw me running towards the bus and one day said, “I’ll pick you up at your house.”  which saved me from having to wait outside.  The bus driver on the afternoon route would drop me off at my house which is the closest thing I have ever had to a car service in my life.  I never used the bus for anything other then going to and coming home from school.  It’s all it was.  The bus was full of commuters from Lawson Heights to downtown.  It was the same for them as well.  Most took it to avoid paying for parking.  I know Saskatoon has cheap downtown parking and it’s awesome but this was cheaper and I am sure many of them got picked up at their home and dropped off as well.

Yet when I wanted to shop, run errands, or go out; I drove.  So did most of the people I took the bus with.  With gas hitting $1.25/litre this summer (as gleefully predicted by the oil industry) a quick trip to Wal-Mart, even in my Festiva, starts to add up to real money.  Even more so for those that are apartment owners who have to deal with rising rent costs.  As I have said here lots, most of the staff that I work with that are renting have $100/month rent increase every year and salaries don’t keep up and that money has to come from somewhere (CTV Regina has a great video on this topic here).  If public transit can save that money, it’s good for them and the environment.  I don’t know how high gas prices have to get to drastically change transportation patterns but if it gets to $2.00/litre gas or even $1.75, you will see more and more people using public transportation for more and more other than commuting.

If I am a business owner, I start to see bus stops as a competitive advantage downtown and If I am a mall owner, I want to take advantage of transfers.  When I road the bus home to Lawson Heights, I either got off and walked home on a nice day or miserable days, I sat on the bus because I didn’t feel like getting out and having to freeze while waiting for the next bus.  If I am Confederation Mall, I am trying to do everything that I can do to get people off the bus, if even for 20 minutes to run in and spend some money in the mall.  The same with downtown business owners.  A heated bus shelter like the one at Portage Place that makes it easier for transit riders to get off and stay for even a short while is a big bonus to business.

Are heated bus shelters going to sweep Saskatoon?  Even in Winnipeg they are only 1.1% of their total stops and less than 10% of their sheltered stops.  Saskatoon has 600 bus stops and even 20 heated shelters downtown, SIAST/University, along 8th, 22nd, and at the malls would make a huge difference in how people moved around in winter.  You could also see them being incorporated into new buildings or incorporated into existing places where it made economic sense.

Saskatoon may be too small to build a light rail transit system but we big enough to start investing in making city transit a more and more important part of our lives.  Better shelters that contribute something architecturally to the community as mini terminals start that process in helping us all adjust to an age where public transit is a bigger part of more of our lives.

One thought on “Thinking beyond commuting”

  1. I hope this post gets people thinking. I have never had a car or a driver’s liscence – medical reasons. I have had to relay on public transit pretty much my whole life once I moved away from home on the farm.

    I have worked at good paying job and the transit cost wasn’t bad, and in the big cities, bearable/tolerable for getting around.

    Now I live in a small Sask city. That doesn’t have public transit, well we do, it’s ‘tele-bus’ kid you not. The good door to door service. The bad, no guarantee of when you will get from point A to B. So it doesn’t really work for well work. It isn’t that big here but this winter with my new job at significantly lower pay scale (just over min. wage), I can’t afford the taxis that I had with my higher paying job. The tele-bus isn’t reliable for getting to work or anywhere on time. So that meant walking or biking. In -40 temps for 30 mins on average. Not much fun. Thankfully I have my health (if nothing else) so I can do this, even if it’s uncomfortable and despite numerous layers occasional mild frostbite. But what if you don’t have that, what if you can’t walk that far? Especially in that type of weather.

    My long winded point, if your low income, you can’t afford the taxi, the bus at $2 per trip with no pass can add up but that’s only if you can risk being late to work. This all factors into employment. If you can’t get there, how can you work? (Incidentally at one EI meeting the gov’t told me if I got a job in H (about 30 minutes away by highway) I would have to take it EVEN THOUGH I have NO transportation there – yeah you figure that one out, because that boggled my mind, luckily found employment here in town – whew). And employers prefer those that drive.

    By the way I saw Winnipeg’s bus system while there this winter and thought that it was wonderful. At least a big step in the right direction.

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