Tag Archives: Troy Davies

The StarPhoenix: When it comes to transit, Saskatoon talks a better game than it delivers

From today’s The StarPhoenix editorial.

Given the fiasco involving route cancellations that greeted riders on the first day of a new school year, it’s difficult to take seriously the City of Saskatoon’s commitment to developing a bus rapid transit system, improve services to meet the demands of growth and lessen the urban carbon footprint.

City Hall seems to be pinning the blame in part on a shortage of qualified heavy duty mechanics in the market, as well as an inability to reach a contract with its transit employees, which is forcing it to advertise for mechanics at wage rates based on the expired 2012 contract.

A month after transit director Bob Howe apologized to commuters after cancelling seven routes because too many buses needed repairs for short-staffed mechanics to fix them all, and described the situation as an “anomaly,” frustrated university students and high schoolers on Tuesday saw the cancellation of direct routes to campus, downtown and many high schools.

In addition, no buses will be added to the busiest routes at peak travel times, and transit officials advise commuters to avoid peak morning and evening trips if possible. It’s those who are trying to get to work or school on time, and return home afterward, who are creating the “peaks,” and it’s transit’s job to accommodate their needs, not the other way around.

The cancellations and delays in the implementation of new routes were announced on Friday, before the Labour Day long weekend. Transit users, who have had to cope in recent years with frequent changes to routes and services, can’t be blamed for questioning why the city cannot seem to get its act together on managing the service properly.

“We have been in an environment of labour uncertainty for the last number of months which has proven to be challenging,” noted the city’s news release on Friday.

Yet, what isn’t clear is what role Saskatoon’s policy of buying second-hand buses that other cities don’t want is playing in creating the demand for more mechanics and a repair backlog that had rendered the transit service unable to field a full complement of buses for its routes.

Mr. Howe says transit has sent as many buses as possible to be repaired by private companies. Given that the problem has been obvious for at least a month, when the previous route cancellations occurred, when did the city began to contract out the work?

Surely, transit officials should have known long before Friday that they lacked enough buses and told the public, instead of waiting until the last possible moment to disclose the fact. This is far from acceptable customer service and effective issues management.

Mr. Howe said in July that transit was upgrading its aging fleet and expects to get five new buses this fall. It’s now obvious that the decrepitude of his 158-bus fleet has reached a point where even more replacements are needed soon, making council’s decision to use for the new commuter bridge the funding slated for bus replacements seem unwise.

When it comes to transit, Saskatoon talks a better game than it delivers.

Excellent editorial but I have one bone to pick with it. I am not even sure City Hall talks a good game about transit.  If anything the message that I have heard from City Council at budget time is that transit is a burden on the city as they transfer more costs onto riders.

I have written about our aging fleet before but it is worth repeating.  Some of our busses are so old that people travel to Saskatoon just to ride of them like rolling museum pieces.  They shouldn’t be repaired by Saskatoon Transit but the Western Development Museum.  Instead of replacing them, Saskatoon City Council is building a bridge for cars.

It is to be expected.  With the retirement of Myles Heidt and the defeat of Bev Dubois, there are no councillors who are strong on public transit.  Unlike Calgary and Edmonton who both feature mayors who use and advocate for public transit, I am unaware of any councillors who actually use it.  Maybe that explains some of the problems that we have.

The other problem is the Saskatchewan government contributes nothing to the bottom line of our transit in cities.  Whereas Manitoba pays for almost half of Winnipeg’s transit costs (and injects capital for BRT), we get nothing except some money for Access Transit.  Arguably that money is spent on STC which is still needed but it means that Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, and Regina are some of the few cities that are left trying to provide funding for transit with no help.  While I agree that council has handled this poorly (again), a big part of the blame lands with governments going back to the Blakeney era that ignored public transit in the cities.

Is the new governance model in Saskatoon for it’s citizens or for the councillors

The StarPhoenix asks some hard questions about the new City of Saskatoon governance model that seems to more about the lifestyle of the councillors than it is about being good for the city.

When city council holds its next meeting a week from today, it will be the first such meeting in nearly two months after city hall adopted a new governance model that has cut council meetings in half to once a month.

Only a couple of voices on council expressed skepticism over the new system, while most heralded the change as making council’s activities more accessible.
However, there’s reason for Saskatoon residents to doubt whether the new system will improve how the city is run and increase people’s access to decisions and those who make them.

The StarPhoenix examined governance formats in seven other western Canadian cities and found little similarity to Saskatoon’s new model.

Few other municipalities hold council meetings just once a month and, of those that do, appearances can be deceiving.

Regina, for example, generally holds council meetings once a month, but held 23 meetings in 2013 and has held 10 so far this year.

Will Saskatoon’s new approach be flexible and allow for special meetings to be called to address urgent issues?

None of the other councils studied held all the major committee meetings on a single day of the week the way Saskatoon city hall plans to on Mondays (or Tuesdays after a long weekend).

Supporters say the new system will allow people greater access to committee meetings, which will now be held in council chambers and broadcast on the city’s website.

Why hold all the committees on the same day, though? That would seem to limit accessibility – particularly for those who happen to be busy on Mondays.

Is the real motivation access for residents, or convenience for councillors and administrators?

City officials cited Regina, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton as the inspiration for the new system, but Saskatoon’s new approach bears little resemblance to the latter two Alberta cities. Both Edmonton and Calgary hold multiple council meetings each month, making one wonder if Saskatoon is really making an effective transition to becoming a big city.

I agree with questions that The StarPhoenix is asking.  From the start I have said that this is about the convenience of City Councillors who want to streamline their work load, make themselves less accountable, and make it far harder for the lowly public to participate or communicate with their elected officials.  Saskatoon City Council took this new arrangement so seriously that they actually drew names from a hat to fulfill one of the committee memberships.  You can’t do that and tell anyone that you take governance seriously.

I’ll give The StarPhoenix the last word.

No one can credibly argue these changes came about due to public pressure or through extensive consultation with voters.

It’s now up to the new model’s supporters to communicate how and why the new system is working and to be candid and admit when it’s failing the citizens who are paying for it.

Otherwise, Saskatoon residents will quite correctly feel they’ve been bamboozled and watched democracy get eroded by those who should be defending it.

An Open Letter to Saskatoon City Council

Dear Councillors,

Over the last couple of weeks I have seen three minor accidents along the northbound lane on Idylwyld South.  All three have been minor and have “exchanged paint” to use the old NASCAR phrase.  They have been caused by someone trying to brake or avoid a massive pothole around a manhole cover which had been created but not repaired by a City of Saskatoon crew.

Today while caught in traffic along there, Wendy and I watched a man who was going no faster than 20 kph hit the pothole, blow his tire and bend his rim on a pothole that had been there for weeks.

Whenever I talk to any of you about potholes, I get told, “report it on the website”.  When a pothole in on one of the major thoroughfares in this city, driven by police, fire, city crews and even you as councillors, one should not have to report a pothole to the city, it should be fixed like it would be in any other city in Canada.  Especially when the pothole was created as part of a sewer upgrade*.

I have heard many stories this summer of Saskatoonians travelling to other cities and hearing apologies for the state of their roads while those same people are going, “this is so much better than the roads we have have in Saskatoon”.  Some of the ways people have described our roads are “war torn”, “goat trails,” and most of all “unsafe”.

They are unsafe to our tires, our rims, and our suspensions.  They are also unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians.  It’s embarrassing that you as a group has allowed our streets to get to this point.

It’s not like you don’t know this would happen.  The 2012 Roads Reports and reports before that ask for more money and tell you each year that unless we have more money, this is going to happen.  You kept telling people how you heard about their concerns regarding roads on the doorsteps.  Instead you gave a small increase and congratulated yourselves on the back despite knowing it wasn’t enough.  Road repair costs rise about 15% each year but Council decides to give about .5% of an increase each year leading to a very big and unsafe gap in services.  You hope to have enough money budgeted to bring hold the status quo by 2020.  By that time there may not be any roads left and the yearly amount needed to fix our roads will be much, much higher.  

Maybe city crews can’t find the potholes because street cleaning in this city takes months.  On Friday I was in City Park and they were finally cleaning it.  It was July 12!  Two months citizens of City Park have had to deal with gravel strewn and dirty streets because again, the City of Saskatoon won’t pay for the equipment needed to clean our streets.  We have such a short summer, you would think this would be a priority but it isn’t.  An email from another ward councillor today showed that much of that ward hadn’t been cleaned yet so don’t feel back City Park.  The quality of street sweeping is poor to say the least.  Talking to councillors in others wards I hear the same thing.  Locally I heard the sweepers but to be honest, our roads are marginally cleaner.

Sure we have the lowest taxes of any city our size in Canada but at the end of the day there is a reason for that, no city can maintain it’s infrastructure at the current rate of funding.  We may as well have Prosperity Saskatoon but we have roads that failing and a bridge that is a laughing stock of the country.  Instead of fixing what we have, all you can talk about is how we need to build more stuff (that needs to be maintained) so we can grow to a city of 1 million people.

While we are talking about growing to a city of a million people; here is a little bit of information you might find useful,  cities can’t grow themselves.  It’s the national and provincial economies that decide that.  It took Calgary 45 years to grow from 250,000 to a million people yet for some reason, we need to start building today.  Hence the $30 million extra for addition lanes on the north commuter bridge that your own city administration recommended against.  Then again, who am I to question policy made out of a campaign promise?

Our provincial economy is far different than Alberta’s oil based economy.  The amount of head office oversight that a potash mine takes compared to thousands of oil wells all over the province is miniscule.  We may be overjoyed by BHP Billiton moving it’s Canadian head office to Saskatoon but look at the result, a couple of stories of downtown office space.  It’s not a reflection of Saskatoon, it’s a reflection of the economy of the province we live in.

Combine that with a city council that just can’t get that quality of life matter in a city and you have a place where companies won’t be able to attract talent to and if they can, they won’t be able to keep it.  Most of the cities that are growing in Canada have higher taxes because a) growth costs b) you need to have great public amenities to have a city that top talent wants to live in.  

Eventually we are going to have to make a decision as a city.  If we keep on this path with crumbling roads and infrastructure many will just choose to leave.  For those that are left, we are going to have to borrow heavily to pay for the stuff that should have been paid for al along just like Toronto has had to do.  You can’t run old buses, garbage trucks, and city vehicles forever.  Eventually something is going to have to give and then you have to start paying for bills of broken equipment, water pipes, and roads.  When those bills come due, it’s over whelming.

Council needs to stop playing politics and start doing their fiduciary responsibility for the citizens of Saskatoon and start taking proper care of our infrastructure and city.  If they don’t, the only good news is that they won’t need to spend so much time worrying about it because we will find another group of public servants that will.

* I shouldn’t be that surprised by a city crew not repairing a pothole.  I had to personally intervene several years ago while a city run backhoe hit a car and was about to drive off.  The utility cut took a couple of years to get fixed.  I also listened to Saskatoon Light & Power crews lie about a pole failure while I was working downtown where they went home for the weekend and left a power pole in a hole without any supports.  The weather warmed up and it fell over.  We aren’t hiring the best and the brightest.

2012 Municipal Election Roundup

So after spending last night at City Hall waiting for the election results to be made public, here are my thoughts.

  • It was fun doing a quick segment with David Kirton and CKOM on the election.  I have always been a fan of Kirton and my only regret was not seeing more traction on food trucks (Twitter joke).
  • I was shocked to see Troy Davies win in Ward 4.  I had picked Sean Shaw and all of the metrics that myself and others have used to determine campaign victories showed Shaw winning. Apparently I need new metrics.  Either that or I need to start putting polls in the field.  Congrats to Troy Davies for winning and earning the right to be Ward 4 councillor.  Sean is a good friend and I am sure he will be back politically but it’s hard to see friends lose races.
  • I was also surprised to see Ann Iwanchuk win as after 10/11 polls reporting, Mike San Miguel had a sizeable lead but as the old saying goes, “it’s not over until it’s over” and all of a sudden I was looking at a result that I couldn’t believe and that is that Iwanchuk won by 28 votes.  When I talked to her and Andy last night, they kind of had the same reaction. Congrats to her on a well run race.
  • If I am Mike San Miguel, I have to questioning my decision to go negative late in the race with a pamphlet that attacked Iwanchuk and an attacking robo-call that attacked her NDP background.  If anything it probably motivated people to turn out for Iwanchuk.  It was a great campaign to watch that came down to under 100 votes.
  • Zach Jeffries not only becomes the youngest member on council ever but knocked off three term incumbent Bev Dubois.
  • So Tom Wolf came within a hair of defeating a long term incumbent after getting in the race in September.  Impressive campaign by Wolf and they had by far the best campaign t-shirts.
  • Pat Lorje won again in Ward 2 which is what I predicted. 
  • Since this will be long forgotten by 2016, I am planning to do a series of push polls, probably just to candidate homes that go something like, “Would you prefer crazed socialist (or robber baron) [insert councillor’s name here] or well respected columnist Jordon Cooper to represent your riding?” just to feed on their paranoia.  I have no intention of running but it would be fun to do.
  • I had a fun conversation with Andy Iwanchuk which is the first time we have ever met. When you think of it, the Iwanchuk family has been in campaign mode for a long time with Ann’s election a year ago, Andy’s provincial campaign and now her re-election campaign which makes for a hectic year.  No truth to the rumour that both of them are getting away for a vacation by working on someone else’s campaign.
  • After following the council pretty closely, I found the entire election disillusioning.  Part of it is the sausage philosophy where you don’t really want to know how it is made.  At the last of the last term, it was a very politically divided council.  That division came across during some of the FOI requests that dropped and also it showed that more than one councillor/candidate had lied to me about some issue or another.  Hopefully with some new councillors on council those bridges can be rebuilt but I am not hopeful that the partisanship will change.
  • I want to thank each of you last night that aggressively shook my hand.  If you noticed tears in my eyes, it wasn’t because I moved talking to you or about your victory, it is because I HAVE A TORN ROTATOR CUFF and it really HURT ME every time we shook hands.  I was ready to be put down by about 8:45 p.m.  It hurt that much.
  • The election day someone put up an anonymous Twitter account bashing Darren Hill to the media and anyone who would listen.  Sadly it was done by someone that knows Wendy and I and lives in Mayfair.  I have a pretty good idea of who it was but it’s still sad.  To be honest, if I was going to attack Hill I would stand behind them.  An anonymous account doesn’t do anything other than provide something to laugh at.
  • Got to hang out with Alex MacPherson and Liam Richards for the first time last night.  I always enjoy MacPherson’s writing in Verb and I have long been a fan of Richard’s photography (which always envying his gear). 
  • So this will be it until the next federal and provincial election when some councillors decide to run.  If they win, we get by-elections and the process starts all over again.