This blog is written organizers of "10 day for transit"
Saskatoon, as a city, has a lot of things going for it - beautiful riverfront, one of the sunniest cities in the country, great neighbourhoods - but being a “transit city” is not one of them. Like other prairie towns, Saskatoon’s streets were once home to streetcars and trolley buses; however, transit ridership (and investment) plummeted in the post-war era with the widespread growth of car ownership and far-sprawled suburbs. Recent years have seen a resurgent interest in historic walkable neighbourhoods along with rapid population growth that strains our road system, but Saskatoon generally remains a car-dominant city.
Last year, several factors came together to push for a change in how Saskatonians think about transit:
The city’s growth planning process, in predicting a doubling of Saskatoon’s population over the next few decades, has transit in a central role with the creation of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
Responding to community concerns around service, a group of local residents formed Bus Riders of Saskatoon in early fall to advocate for improvements to the system. A few weeks later, a labour dispute brought Saskatoon Transit’s buses to a halt for over a month: the newly formed Bus Riders group helped connect stranded straphangers with rides and encouraged the two sides to return to the bargaining table and restore service.
Shannon McAvoy, a placement student at my consulting business, and I launched Better Transit YXE, a small-scale initiative to change the conversation around public transit in our city. We handed out candy canes to riders one cold December morning, introduced interesting transit practices from other cities through our website and social media, and held numerous coffee meetings with anyone remotely interested in transit.
It was through one of those coffee meetings that we learned about a 10 day for transit event that a Regina city councillor, Shawn Fraser, had organized the year before to raise the profile of transit in his similarly car-centred city. Before we knew it, a critical mass of individuals and organizations, including Bus Riders of Saskatoon, city councillors, the University of Saskatchewan Student Union (USSU), and community members had come together to plan a similar event here in Saskatoon.
What drew our group together was recognizing the role that public transit plays in a growing city and the need to challenge beliefs and attitudes around the role of transit in Saskatoon. While acknowledging the need for the current system to improve, we wanted to celebrate what is working and demonstrate that the bus is used by people from all walks of life, not just the stereotypes of youth, university students, seniors, newcomers to Canada, and low-income families.
The centrepiece of our 10 Days for Transit, held April 14-24, was several storyteller pairings that saw regular bus riders guide first-timers, with their enroute conversations professionally shot and shared through social media. Through these stories, we aimed to challenge misconceptions of the transit system and encourage Saskatoon residents to try riding the bus during the ten days.
Other campaign components included regular blog posts (including one by Shawn Fraser in Regina), social media conversations including a lively Tweet chat and a wrapup event where we filled Saskatoon’s Transit newest addition to the fleet.
10 Day for Transit made a splash in both traditional and social media spheres, with coverage from local print, radio, and TV outlets and great engagement through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. As the video above demonstrates, participants in the campaign started to recognize the value of a transit system and a willingness to consider the bus for daily travel around the city.
As a final story, local newspaper columnist Phil Tank spent part of a day working on the bus, accompanied by one of our campaign organizers. Although Tank had questioned the price tag of the proposed BRT system in a previous column, his article from this experience ended on a different note. As a workplace, the bus leaves a lot to be desired, but as a mode of transportation, it appears to be our future. The success of 10 Days for Transit shows that Saskatoon is getting on board towards becoming a transit city!