This Week At City Hall: Satellite Of Bus Love, Water Plant Update

This Week at City HallThe award for Big News Story from last night’s council meeting should probably go to the ratification of the collective agreement with the Regina Civic Middle Management Association, while runner up would then be the Out-of-Scope workers getting a 2.6 per cent wage increase. But I’m going to put them off for a bit because they aren’t what’s got me in a lather and wanting to write today.

No, the award for “News Story That’s Most Stuck In My Craw” has to go to the decision to extend Regina Transit’s experiment with Automatic Vehicle Location — aka, TransitLive.

If you’ve been listening to the podcast or following me on the twitter then you may have noticed that I’m not a fan. And apparently I’m the only person in all of Regina who feels this way. The rest of you seem to love it to bits.

But here’s the thing, I’m a frequent user of transit. And it was a little irksome to hear in the post-meeting scrum the mayor saying that, thanks to TransitLive, riders will no-longer have to wait around in the cold for their bus to come.

And yet, I’ve spent a great deal of time lately doing that very thing, TransitLive or no. And that’s because to use TransitLive as it’s intended you pretty much have to have a mobile phone.

And I don’t have one.

I know. No mobile and no car. It’s like I’m poor or something.

Except, I’m not. But some of the people who rely on transit are. And some regular transit users are elderly people — or aging contrarians as the case may be — who haven’t thrown their lot in with that whole portable telephone fad. TransitLive isn’t helping them much.

Sure, I suppose you can use TransitLive from a computer at home or call in through an antiquated land-line system. But those only help when you’re leaving to go somewhere. When you’re hoping to get back to where you live, TransitLive is once again pretty useless without a cell. Seems any solution to the problem of buses not always being where they’re scheduled to be that requires everyone who uses the system to buy an electronic device and pay monthly usage charges isn’t much of a solution at all to a large portion of transit’s traditional audience.

And that’s why I’m pretty suspicious of this scheme to use satellites to improve the bus service. Actually, I’m pretty suspicious any time somebody tries to throw technology at a problem that could be solved just by doing the core job better.

I mean, the solution to all my transit system woes is buses that come more often and when they’re supposed to.

But, I would argue, there’s actually a risk that TransitLive will only make those problems worse because it removes an incentive to fix them.

Thanks to TransitLive, buses getting to stops on time is no longer crucial, it’s only sort of crucial, because everybody presumably can find out with the click of an app when the buses diverge from the posted schedule.

And putting more buses on the road so that the wait times between buses is shorter is less important once you assume people aren’t waiting around outside so much.

Now, staff did say that they are using the data from the bus tracking system to gauge how close the buses are able to stick to their schedules and thereby fix problems with their timing. So that’s good. And combined with the computerized farebox data I imagine they can get pretty detailed information about how people are using the system.

But still… I don’t know. Call me a technophobic curmudgeon but the whole thing just kind of feels like a cheat or a dodge. And TransitLive looks to me like a very pretty but ultimately over-hyped gew-gaw.

Maybe it’ll all work out in the end and I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe you love TransitLive and want to school me on what a fool I’m being. If so, go nuts in the comments section.

Regardless, I honestly hope I’m proven wrong in the long run. Because I’m sick of having to stand around outside waiting in the snow for a bus that has a habit of arriving anywhere up to 15 minutes late.

Other highlights from last night’s meeting…

• Councillor O’Donnell reported back from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities November meeting. They will once again be asking the federal government to step up with long-term, sustainable infrastructure funding starting in 2014 that will replace the soon-to-expire Building Canada Fund. They’re asking for an annual investment from Ottawa of $5.75 billion which represents only 2.3 per cent of the federal budget.

• Council also received a report on the wastewater treatment plant upgrade project. Thanks to inflation in the construction market, the cost as risen to $207 million — up from a low estimate of $153 million +/- 20 per cent. Staff are saying that the city will likely have to take on significant debt to cover this cost (I’m pretty sure we’ve known this for a long time though).

• A whole schwack of interim payments were approved for capital projects and to organizations like the Downtown BID and RROC which are funded by the city. This was done because, to accommodate the new council, the 2013 budget is going out a little later than last year and those groups and projects will need money right at the start of the new year.

• Citizen appointees to the city’s various committees were finalized. I won’t copy the list of people here as you can download them yourself on the city’s webiste. The file you want is Appendix A. And in report CR12-179, which is also on that page, there’s a really good primer on how committee appointments are made. It’s worth a read if you think knowing stuff like that is important.

• As I mentioned above, the city ratified an 18 month collective agreement with the Regina Civic Middle Managers’ Association (CMM). City managers will be getting a 3.5 per cent wage increase in 2013 but none in 2014. So the overall wage increase works out to 2.6 per cent annually. CMM also signed a Letter of Understanding to help in coming up with a job evaluation plan which is to be completed by Dec 31, 2013. The report notes that this is the first time the city has resolved a collective agreement before it expired. So, yay team! And it’s because of this that I picked this as the Big News Story of the night.

• The city also ratified a 2.6 per cent wage increase for Out-of-Scope workers. That’s intended to be in line with the CMM’s agreed wage increase.

• A stretch of Elgaard Drive north of Rochdale Blvd has been renamed Galloway Street. In presenting this, Councillor Mike O’Donnell seemed to make some kind of football joke involving punting. I didn’t get it but council laughed.

And that’s it. There was more on the agenda but I think this covers all the really noteworthy stuff. If you want to read all the stuff I’ve skipped along with the full reports of what I’ve covered, you can download everything on the city’s website.

But before I wrap this — the last This Week At City Hall of 2012 — a couple quick points.

First, wow. Novice Councillor Fraser has been an impressive addition to council so far. And I’m not just saying that because he’s the councillor for my ward. Not only does he have the most significant committee commitment of any councillor, he’s also up all the time asking questions and challenging staff to explain themselves more fully. He’s stumbled a bit with the rules of order a couple times but that’s to be expected. He even seems to be laying out a list of things he’d like to consider changing in future. Things like water utility charges that are better designed to encourage demand-side use management. Hopefully as his term continues this will translate in to some tangible motions and enquiries. Because those make my job more interesting.

And last, I just wanted to note that for 2013, my resolution will be to bring This Week At City Hall back as a weekly feature. I’ve had to let it slide a bit this year and only focus on the weeks when there’s something really newsworthy or funny that’s worth covering. But I’ve missed writing these and when I’m not doing them religiously I start to feel like I’m losing my city hall edge.

So anyway, I only mention this because I figure if I put it in print then that’ll force me to follow through on the promise. Feel free to harass me if I end up missing a week.

Okay, thanks for reading. And I’ll be back in 2013 with more blow-by-blow city hall coverage. Have a very Happy Cthulhumas, a Festive Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or, hey, even a Merry “Christmas” if that’s how you roll.

To play you out, one of my favourite, old timey holiday carols….

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

35 thoughts on “This Week At City Hall: Satellite Of Bus Love, Water Plant Update”

  1. Cthulhu lives!!!!
    Thanks for this, Paul, and for all the City Hall coverage you’ve done. I’m glad you’re going to give us even more.
    I agree completely re: TransitLive. I don’t make use of it either. I think that, besides tracking how buses meet schedules – which could be done by other means – TransitLive is a flashy techtoy that the Transit Dept. can point proudly to in order to show how 21st-century they are. Feh. Concentrate on getting the buses where they should be, when they should be. That may be dull, but it’s what the clientele wants.

  2. I think TransitLive is just one strategy in an attempt to make transit a bit more attractive to people who don’t currently take it or see it as inconvenient and for “other” people. That said, improving service is what will really make transit a competitive mode and a viable option for everyone.

  3. TransitLive is useless. I can’t even count how many times I’ve consulted it before leaving my house to catch a bus, only to see that the bus has made up some time since I left my house, resulting in my missing the bus entirely!

    If bus drivers can’t stick to a prescribed schedule, what’s the point of having a transit system? Imagine how many more paying customers buses would have on them if they were actually able to get on the bus at the time they thought they would be able to?

  4. I’m a transit user, and I don’t have a cell phone either. So I just have to stand there and wait and hope the bus is on time. This past year, the buses seem to be running closer to schedule than past years. There’s still far too long a wait between buses though.

    In cities with really good public transit, e.g. Paris, the bus stops themselves have digital displays indicating when the next buses will arrive. And that’s in a city where there’s probably even more per capita cell phone use than Regina.

    I really wish the University of Regina had figured out a better place for people to wait for buses than standing outside in the cold in front of the Riddell Centre and the Classroom Building. Considering at least five months of the academic year feature sub-zero temperatures, the U of R might want to work on this.

  5. Thanks again, Paul! Your City Hall coverage is the bee’s knees – and very necessary.

    As for thinking about elderly transit users, if this city really cared about its senior citizens, they’d be on top of sidewalk snow removal. I regularly see old women walking down the middle of roads in order to avoid the icy sidewalks. Anyone unsure on their feet (or with mobility issues of any kind) take their lives in their hands trying to get around the streets these days.

  6. I’ve started taking the bus a lot lately, and except when blizzarding at rush hour, cannot BELIEVE how to-the-minute the bus actually is. I’m on the 11/13 route, and whether downtown or at River Heights, it’s usually to-the-minute, which I cannot believe, but it is. I’m not assuming everyone enjoys this fad, though.

  7. @2: Agreed.
    @7 & 8: I’m a paper-schedule user, too, Talbot. I agree: the 11/13 route is one of the best, even considering its length and the amount of route that is on much-used streets.
    I can understand if buses are late, especially at heavy-traffic times or when the weather challenges every driver, but leaving EARLY, especially from the downtown transfer point, I cannot fathom. The #2 Argyle Park is especially bad for this. It used to be an unwritten understanding that buses could be late, but NEVER early.
    @5 & 6: When the public sidewalk running by your property is lower than the street, and the thaw drainage is onto that sidewalk, it can be a najor challenge to keep that sidewalk ice-free. It’s not that the city is unaware of the problem; they’ve just chosen not to remediate.

  8. Transitlive is useless on a phone or iPad or iPod, sorry. It’s a cool idea, and works passably on a computer if you simply want to see where a bus is presently. It’s not a trip planner though, and has a non-intuitive interface.

    I tried providing input a year or so ago, and I think one required change was somewhat adopted, but it still too clunky for frozen fingers to use in the Winter. It’s useful at a stop only about 10% of the time, from personal experience.

    Ottawa had a text to get your bus time at your stop number service in 2002 (or maybe it was just a voice or touchtone activated system that did it?).

    We also can’t purchase a day pass on a bus, despite there being a ticket printer on each and every bus now, so what’s up with that little inefficiency?

    If you made it through my short rant, and want to fix transit, please stay in touch with me, as I’ll be working hard on it in the near year, starting this month.

  9. Apparently I’m a weirdo in that I’m a transit user and have a cellphone! As of 2010, 83% of Saskatchewan households had at least one cellphone. Implying that TransitLive is not useful for the majority of transit users does indeed make you seem like a technophobic curmudgeon, Paul. I use TransitLive regularly, even though it is missing a number of features I would like to see and the flash-based web maps are almost unusably slow on my phone. However — in my opinion — more important than the application itself are the beneficial side-effects of the program.

    Bus scheduling is a difficult optimization problem involving trade-offs in wait time, travel time, reliability, capacity, cost, and schedule simplicity. You know what’s FUCKING AWESOME for solving hard optimization problems (or a least improving the satisficing solutions)? Data! And the TransitLive system (combined with the fancy fare readers) produces fucktons of data. MAybe it’s just the AI geek in me, but my head is bursting with ideas on how to use that data to improve the bus schedules. For starters, segments of bus routes that introduce variance to arrival time can be identified down to the stop. The schedulers can extend the expected travel time for these segments and increase reliability by adding more synchronization stops.

    Another thing this data will help with is in accountability. With this data, Regina Transit has no excuse not to provide council and the public with quantitative metrics (average wait time, % of time on time, etc) for their performance. With these metrics, they can set concrete, measurable goals and be held accountable for failures in reaching these goals. This can only improve service for everybody, even you Luddites with no intention of using TransitLive directly.

    Obviously, the City needs to follow up on this program, and we haven’t seen many of the potential benefits yet; However, I think TransitLive is an important step toward finally getting a serious transit system established in Regina (for every user, not just those of us attached to our cellphones like a baby to the teat).

  10. Hey, don’t pick on Paul; he’s not alone! And, just FYI, Luddites destroy the machines; they don’t just eschew them.

    Thanks for this perspective. Data collection is good, and I don’t think anyone here disagreed with that. The data has to be acted upon, however, and that’s what we transit users hope for, but we aren’t holding our breath.

  11. I took the bus from work most days from May to November of this year and I found Transitlive pretty beneficial- when the bus was behind schedule (and transitlive was actually working!) I avoided waiting at the bus stop for long periods of time.

    That said, I agree that transitlive should not be seen as a replacement for more efficient and timely transit services. The route I take home, 12, is often late and much slower than other modes of transportation.

  12. Thanks for the correction, Barb. Next you’ll tell me that decimate doesn’t mean destroy completely!

  13. @9 Nothing worse than an early bus. Happened when I was a teen a few times, didn’t ride the bus again for 15 years. Part of me likes the natural feeling of being early and having to wait anyway, as long as I’m going home, anyway.

  14. I use transitlive (and public transit) daily. I like it. It has proven itself useful to me. Does it have faults? Sure. But for me, the benefits outweigh those faults. I hope it stays.

  15. The whole CoR webpage is so Fucked up!

    Why are the pages sideways? mabye a rotate page button would come in handy.

    Bus service sucks PERIOD.

    I would rather drive or bicycle or walk 1st.

    Why are we forced to give any city worker/ “BOARD MEMBER “, a pay rise until they REALIZE THAT REGINA RUNS 24 FUCKING HOURS A DAY 365 DAYS A YEAR !!??

    THE bus must run 24/7.

    I work nights and the occasional” everbody else’s ” holiday.
    normal days I could take the bus TO work, but I would have to Cab it home.

    Do the math, $16.00 a day ain’t cheap.

    That’s why I drive.

    A full tank of gas 50-70 bucks ( depending on the gough ), lasts close to 3 weeks of commutes & grocery getting/beer runs,etc.
    So it’s $100/month.

    On a good day, (ie; summertime ), a bus trip to work, which involves a transfer,( on fakkin 11th ave ,(Regina’s worst place to be in any vehicle)),takes around 40 minutes.
    My door to door bike ride, about 35 min.
    My drive approximately 8 min,in the summer.

    So for the average price for me ,( I’ll round my cost to $120/month ), why the F would I take the bus??

    mike Forgery announced today that we now need a pool / recreation facility consultant to be part of a $ 16 million “effort”..holywtf?

    Regina’s ” brain trust “, should be fired,and We hire more realistic thinkers at Shiitty Haul!

  16. I am a young bus user who loves TransitLive.

    I never took the bus in Regina until this past year when I discovered the TransitLive system because it allowed for me to consult the app and make changes to figure out my possible routes to my destination. Sure I could use a paper schedule I suppose…but I never carry that with me when I’m out and about and I didn’t want to consult the paper schedule at home until I had it memorized. Lazy, yes, but it’s the truth.

    I fell in love with public transit in my summers in Montreal taking the metro and bus to get where I needed to go and ached for a system like that in Regina where I could jump in, consult my phone and be on my way. The Regina bus certainly isn’t going to be compared with the metro, but it’s a lot closer to something I want to use now with TransitLive.

  17. “As of 2010, 83% of Saskatchewan households had at least one cellphone.” Alright, but since when does cellphone = smart phone? Many of my friends, co workers, and self included own regular, everyday, average cell phones that do not access “apps” or the “internet” whenever we please. Do not just cater to the rich, and spoiled.

    And who is Barb Saylor. I would like to see the PD do a write up in the next issue so we can see who this keen, relentless commenter is. Barb certainly has a lot to say!

  18. The TransitLive service includes access to real-time estimated arrival times through SMS via texting your stop number to 306-596-6136, so it’s not just for the “rich and spoiled” with smartphones.

    And in case I’ve given an inaccurate impression, I have never worked for the City of Regina, TRLabs or anyone else associated with the TransitLive service.

  19. Brad, but buses collect *too much* data now, while providing too little service. I don’t need the bus recording everything I say to the driver and other passengers, for instance, nor the video inside and outside of the bus, it’s just too much fodder for Trapwire.

    The City now takes two plastic cards as payment, when it should be merged into one, R-Card (not Leisure Pass too).

    Transit Live should sense what stops a person is near to, and immediately offer the ETA of the next buses to arrive at the stop(s), without requiring another click. If it can’t do that, it’s nearly useless for people using WiFi out at a stop that just wants to know if they should duck indoors, or stick it out at the stop for five minutes more.

  20. @28: John, I agree with every single point you just made. Now I’m going to have to look into the City’s privacy policy, especially with regards to the information collected through the RCard system.

  21. I do not understand why Regina Transit stops are not on Google maps. The Saskatoon stops are on Google maps. Does this have anything to do with Transit Live?

  22. Brad: In a couple comments on our blog, you’ve done a better job of explaining the rationale behind TransitLive than anyone on staff or council has ever done. Thanks. You haven’t sold me on it but you’ve certainly blunted my fury.

  23. And, incidentally, I lifted from this comment thread for this issue’s Barking Dogs column. Thing is, due to the holiday, we’re putting the issue out early. And I submitted this just before Brad and Jon had weighed in.

    So, unless Steve updated the copy I sent, it’s going to look like I cherry picked comments to back my position. But it was strictly the result of a tight deadline.

    Thought you’d like to know what was going on behind the scenes.

  24. # 25
    yer right 100%

    We haven’t yet hired another consultant to address your concern about the previous consultants report, that many seniors aren’t appliction or tablet savvy.

  25. #25 What are the the survy results tha t that all of appliclible Sask, used to have 100 % Analog telephone service, just in case their Digital service, mmmm ended.

    Pay phones are only dissparinging, only because of an idiotic SKtel mgmt. decision.

    For some Sktel,”manager” to assume that land lines are useless & that everyone owns a cell/mobile phone, is a goof, and should be fired.
    Yer street cred is 0.

    How much the stupid pixar ads cost us??

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