Saskatoon bucks transit trend with 2017 bus ride increase

via The Star Phoenix

While transit ridership across North America is experiencing declines, Saskatoon Transit recorded more rides in 2017 than the year before.

Bus rides in Saskatoon increased to 8.7 million in 2017 from 8.5 million in 2016. Transit revenue also increased from $13.9 million in 2016 to $14.1 million last year.

However, projections fell more than $1 million short of the Saskatoon Transit revenue goal of $15.1 million.

Saskatoon Transit director Jim McDonald said he is pleased with the progress overall, but added he will push for a more accurate approach to budgeting.

“We’re really happy with an about two per cent rider increase,” McDonald said in an interview on Tuesday. “Those changes that we’ve made to our system are starting to gain traction and that’s good news for everybody.”

The increase comes as transit systems elsewhere are struggling to maintain ridership or to prevent a decrease. Saskatoon Transit is also still recovering from a month-long lockout of employees by the City of Saskatoon in the fall of 2014.

Ridership has still not returned to the level it was at before the lockout — rides peaked at 9.4 million in 2013.

The number of rides on Saskatoon buses dipped in 2016 compared to 2015, but McDonald attributed that to changes made to routes.

The city is planning a bus rapid transit (BRT) system as the central plank of its growth plan. It’s still engaged in public consultation on the system, which is expected to feature criss-crossing, high-frequency routes that connect to different parts of the city. Construction is supposed to take about three years and could begin as soon as next year. It’s estimated to cost between $90 million and $150 million.

McDonald said he would like to see changes in how the city calculates the Saskatoon Transit budget.

Budget estimates are based on the cost of a monthly adult pass, but that fails to take into account the discounts Saskatoon Transit offers, he said.

Adult monthly passes cost $83; the passes cost $29 for seniors, $59 for high school students and $50 for elementary students.

The $1-million discrepancy in transit revenue contributed to a $3.1 million shortfall by the city in 2017. The city is expected to use money from a reserve fund to make up the difference.

McDonald cautioned that even continued growth in ridership is not likely to make up the difference between budget and actual revenue in 2018. The city budgeted for the same amount of transit revenue in 2018 as in 2017.