City fails to get student input on Bus Rapid Transit

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Since July 26, 2017, when Saskatoon City Council awarded the Bus Rapid Transit contract to HDR Inc., the city has been pursuing enhancements to the bus system, but the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union is worried students have not been properly consulted during the planning stage.

According to Deena Kapacila, vice-president operations and finance for the USSU, the city has not taken student ridership into consideration with the new BRT system. As a way to bring these concerns forward, Kapacila will be visiting various colleges during the week of Jan. 15 to 19 to talk with students and gather their input with a survey on BRT models.

Kapacila discusses her disappointment with the consulting firm that was hired to work on the BRT project, noting that the focus of the planning stage has been on potential transit users rather than current users, like U of S students.

“[The existing] four per cent of ridership … is made up of a majority of students, but they want to grow that ridership … instead of consulting with the ridership that they already have,” Kapacila said. “We have U-Pass, [so] they just assume that students are going to continue to use the service.”

The BRT project timeline projects stakeholder engagement and refinement of the plan from December 2017 to February 2018, which then will be brought forward to council sometime in spring. In the Preferred Configuration Report, a BRT station will be located on College Drive by Cumberland Avenue, and the infrastructure may consist of a platform between the two lanes of traffic.

Aidan Murphy, a member of both the University Students’ Council for the College of Arts and Science and the ad-hoc transit committee, explains that he is worried about large groups of students constantly flowing across College Drive to the BRT platform.

“In my mind, it’s a huge safety concern, just given the traffic and congestion there alone. One of [HDR’s] responses to that was, with the BRT, there’s going to be people waiting for three buses every half hour, so essentially, it [will cut] your traffic by two thirds,” Murphy said. “But, [if] you’re still waiting for 10 minutes, there is still going to be a lot of movement.”

It is unclear as to what type of infrastructure may be implemented at the bus stop closest to the Place Riel terminal. Chris Schulz, the growth plan manager for the City of Saskatoon, was reached for comment on the proposed configuration but was unable to provide details on this specific stop, as no specific recommendations have been made by the consulting firm yet.

Overall, Kapacila believes that students will appreciate the evolution of transit services, yet she notes that the unavailability of information on the BRT plan and the lack of consultation and engagement events on campus for students have been concerns for her.

“With the increase in services, the quality of services and the speed of service, [students will] be pleased,” Kapacila said. “But, I think that not telling students … is a little bit negligent on the city’s part.”

The transit surveys will be collected by the USSU, and then, the information will be sent to HDR. However, Kapacila says that these surveys may not impact the project, explaining that student input has not been valued by the consultants so far.

“I’ve got the feeling — not really from the city but more so from this consulting company — that they think … we don’t need to be consulted, we’re not as important, we’re going to continue to ride the bus no matter what,” Kapacila said. “I am going to do my best to hammer the survey down [the company’s] throat, but I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t know how much it’s going to actually do.”

Nykole King / News Editor

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk