Public transit in Prince Albert is receiving a fair amount of media attention recently, due to some of its users wanting improvements to the system, and using a petition to underline their concerns. On the council side, we're facing increased costs to subsidize the system, as we try to increase ridership through increasing service.
The basic problem is that, relatively speaking, not many people use the bus system, for a variety of reasons. Probably the main one is that if you own a car, the convenience of being able to go where you want to go whenever you want to go there vastly outweighs the inconvenience of figuring out the bus system. And most people will opt for convenience every time. The city is small enough that it's usually faster to drive where you want to go than take the bus, unlike in cities like Toronto, where the costs of driving, both in time and in the cost of parking once you get where you're going, are far higher than using public transit.
Environmentally, we should be encouraging bus use over private vehicle use, but I'm afraid that people's environmental sensibilities tend to be outweighed, once again, by convenience. At council, we spend time debating parking issues, but rarely do we talk about the benefits of encouraging people to use buses rather than ensuring that they can park close to where they want to go.
One option that I think we should explore is entering into a partnership with SIAST, making a bus pass part of their registration costs for students, as is the case in Saskatoon with the U of S. We would increase our ridership, both through the convenience of having a bus pass easily available, but also through targeting routes to SIAST during the school year. It would also help SIAST out, by reducing their need for student parking, which I understand is not plentiful.
I also think that looking into arrangements with school boards is an area worth exploring. In Andrea's home town, students who lived a certain distance from the high schools and junior high schools were provided with a bus pass at a reduced cost, rather than worrying about providing school buses for all students. Such an arrangement would help both the school board and the city, and perhaps reduce the endless line-ups of parents dropping their kids off at school - safer, and less polluting, if we need to think of more arguments in favour of such cooperative arrangements.
Having a reliable, efficient public transit system is an asset to the city. Unfortunately, those that use such a system are often overlooked. Part of our job on council is to try to imagine ourselves in all situations, and make the city liveable and accessible for everyone. But it's not enough to just throw more money at the problem, or think that we know the best solutions. We need to talk to the users, and to possible partners, before deciding on how to proceed. And we have to remember that if one solution doesn't work, then we need to try another.
There's no question that fuel prices are going to keep increasing. We'll be far better off if we have a good transit system established before more and more people find that using public transit becomes a necessary part of their lives.
"In the same way that we have a long-term plan for building roads, we need to have a long-term plan to build transit." - Kathleen Wynne