This Week at City HallYesterday, I attended Councillor Shawn Fraser’s press conference kicking off his 10-day transit challenge and I was a little surprised at the sparse turn out. There were only two other media outlets in attendance and maybe four on-lookers — five if you count Desirae from the city’s media department who was there to set up interviews with transit if anyone wanted them. (Desirae is awesome, by the way!)

In hindsight, the small crowd makes sense. The event wasn’t heavily publicized, it was scheduled for mid-morning on a Monday, and I think Regina might be feeling a little civic-engagement overload what with the wastewater referendum so recently behind us.

But still… I was hoping for a few more people than that. Transit’s a pretty big deal for me. I’ve used it my whole life, in whichever city I’ve lived. And now that I’m laying down roots in Regina, even though the system is… frustrating, I take the bus all the time and use it to get pretty much everywhere in the city I need to go.

Meanwhile, council’s commitment to their transit system has always underwhelmed me and I’ve suspected part of the reason for their clumsy approach to public transit is that they don’t seem the sort of folk inclined to ride the bus… anywhere… ever. I’d be surprised if anyone on council (apart from Fraser for obvious reasons) has set foot on one of our city’s buses within the last year unless it was for promotional or campaigning purposes.

And the funny thing is, I’ve argued on more than one occasion that some kind of “challenge” where councillors had to take the bus for some arbitrary length of time might be a good way to convince them that our transit system is in serious need of love. If they saw it’s strengths and weaknesses in action, maybe they’d be more inclined to throw some targeted investment transit’s way come budget time.

And then, boom, here’s a councillor actually committing himself to exactly the kind of challenge I imagined. Great! I should be celebrating.

Except… there’s no one else from council joining him.

Well, it doesn’t look like they will. Not yet, anyway.

So I asked Councillor Fraser if there was interest in his 10 days of transit from anyone else on council.

I’m not sure. I mentioned it to the rest of council and I’m optimistic that they’re going to take part in some of it, maybe come out to the end event or something like that. It’s a new thing so it’s sort of trial year this year. I’m hopeful they’ll be interested in it.

I am too. Hopeful, that is. But not optimistic. Especially since, as far as priorities go, I can’t see transit ranking particularly highly right now. We just confirmed that we’ll be going ahead with the wastewater plant P3 and council is about to confirm the debt they’ll be taking on to cover the Regina Revitalization Initiative.

On top of that, Mayor Fougere says that housing is a top priority for him.

I have to wonder, with so many top priorities for city hall, how is transit going to fit into council’s agenda? As for that, Fraser said,

Well it’s always a question of money. In the last year, ridership has gone up nine percent with zero increase to the budget. We always have to make sure we’re doing what’s best. The city can’t run unless the finances are in order, so that’s a concern. Also, having a good transit system, there’s spinoff benefits. People can get around. People that ride the bus are people who’re spending money here in the city. You can’t really have one without the other.

Yeah. Bus riders are spending money.

They’re also not taking up parking spots, speaking of spinoff benefits. And, what’s more, paying quite a bit into city coffers while they’re at it. (This is me digressing by the way. And seeing as I’ve already started digressing, I’m going to carry on with a “for instance…”)

For instance, if I go downtown with my daughter, that’s a $4.50 fare between the two of us. As long as we spend less than an hour there, we can go home on a transfer. But once those 60 minutes are up, we have to pay another $4.50 to get home. That means transportation to and from downtown costs $9. Fortunately, we both have R-cards, so our fares are reduced. An adult ride on an R-card is $2 and a youth is $1.50. So that still adds up to $7 round trip. And when Dash turns five, add another $3 to that tab.

Parking downtown doesn’t generally cost that much. Meanwhile, if you go to any of the city’s malls or big box zones, parking is free.

If only there was some way to peg the cost of transit to the cost of parking downtown such that taking the bus would be cheaper than — or at least competitive with — dropping your car off in the city centre. Other cities do it — strange, exotic metropolises like Saskatoon. And fortunately, at a February 22 council meeting way back in 2010, then-councillor Fred Clipsham (Fraser’s predecessor in Ward 3) got a motion passed directing administration to include consideration of this idea in the parking study that they’re working on. (Still working on, as far as I know.)

And it’s worth noting that the vote on whether or not just to investigate the feasibility of pegging parking rates to transit fares was one of those rare council votes that wasn’t unanimous. It still passed, but according to my notes, councillor Findura and then-councillor, now-mayor Michael Fougere voted against it.

That’s how controversial this idea is downtown. Some people on council don’t even want to look at it.

Oh, but look at me get ahead of myself. Fraser’s 10 Days Of Transit (oh, and look at me capitalizing now) is just a day old and already I’m noting things that pop out for me about the bus system.

Parking’s cheaper than transit! Pop!

We have too few people taking the bus and too few available parking spots downtown! Pop!

At the end of his press conference, Councillor Fraser encouraged people who’ve maybe never taken the bus to give it a try over the next ten days to see what it’s all about. But seeing as I take the bus all the time already, maybe to get into the spirt of his challenge, I’ll make a point of writing another blog post or two over the next week about Regina transit and the other things about it that pop out for me.

I could write a few more now but this blog post has gone on way too long already. So instead I’ll end it where Councillor Fraser began, with his opening remarks from his press conference…

Excited to be here today to kick off my 10 days of transit event. I don’t actually ride the bus much. I try to walk and bike as much as I can. Regina transit is actually something a little new to me.

A lot of changes happening in the city right now and along with that there are changes in transit. There’s actually been about a nine per cent increase in ridership in the past year. So I’m curious to see what it’s like. See what works. See what doesn’t work. Also, next month, council is going to have a report back from administration on the idea of maybe keeping bigger buses out of downtown and using a free mini-bus service. So I want to have some first hand experience coming into that conversation.

So the idea is I’m going to ride public transit and alternative transit as best I can for 10 days. I’ve invited a group of about six people from around town, people who don’t generally use transit that much either just to get their feedback. Just looking at it as fun way to engage people around town on an important issue.

Councillor Fraser’s 10 Days of Transit runs from October 7 to 17th. On the final day, there will be public forum at the Good Earth Cafe (in Hill Tower 2) from 7 to 9pm. For more information on 10 Days of Transit, check out Fraser’s website.