Plenty of work to be done to improve Regina transit
Is the problem a lack of use or the structure of the program?
Regina transit is in a precarious position, especially during the pandemic, according to Chris Strain, a Regina resident who has a Master’s in Political Science with a focus on transit and economic development. Strain said Regina city council is “under tremendous pressure from residents who don’t use transit themselves and don’t really see the value of it. They see empty buses going by and wonder why they’re paying taxes to subsidize empty buses all day.”
Strain pointed out that the city budget for transit has stayed the same at 39.2 million dollars since 2015. He said that while the budget stayed the same, the city has been growing. A common argument from city council is that there’s not enough demand for transit services to justify increasing the budget, but the poor quality of transit services means that demand will be kept artificially low as people are forced to use alternative modes of transportation, largely personal vehicles.
To increase ridership, Strain thinks that Regina needs to reach a certain level of density. He explained that in Ontario, their Ministry of Transportation essentially released a guidebook which details what would be necessary for transportation in certain neighbourhoods. According to Strain, “for basic transit service, or one bus every 20 to 30 minutes, they recommend a density of at least 50 residents and jobs combined per hectare. For a very frequent bus service, which they call one bus every five minutes with potential for LRT, or bus rapid transit, they recommend 100 residents and jobs combined per hectare.” However, in Regina we struggle to even meet the basic transit service requirements. Strain used Cathedral as an example, as the neighbourhood – made up largely of single-family homes – has a population density of only 21 people per hectare.
One of the problems Regina faces in terms of getting better transit is density standards. Strain said “density standards are under attack right now. There’s a motion that’s going to come up at the next council meeting, to basically lower and water down those standards so that more large houses can be built.” Essentially what this does is create more urban sprawl, eating up public space and putting more distance between residential areas and the places where people work, shop, and recreate.
Strain also blames a cultural attitude towards transit that can only be changed through more awareness, but is a difficult problem to tackle and doesn’t have a definite answer.
Strain also believes the cold weather in Saskatchewan doesn’t lend itself towards making people want to pack into a bus, a problem that’s magnified by the lack of heated or even enclosed shelters, and the amount of time spent waiting between busses. Strain also said that in Saskatchewan, “the car [is] identified with progress and freedom.”
On the question of light rail transit, Strain said that, “a light rail transit system would be pretty expensive. And transit is already viewed with suspicion or looked at as kind of wasteful.” Regina residents are still a long way from embracing the idea (and cost) of a light rail system, not to mention that the city’s size and density doesn’t make it an ideal candidate for a light rail system.
However, Strain is hopeful for the future and for projects such as an infill project south of Dewdney, where he said there is supposed to be a net zero community with residential towers. He believes that if this area is built correctly with the right amount of density then they could look at implementing some form of LRT. “We need to get there first,” he said.
The ideal transit scenario according to Strain existed in the first part of the twentieth century, when Regina had a network of cable cars similar to that of New Orleans or San Francisco. This system was dismantled in the 1950s. Along with the cable car network, Strain would want to “create a 10-minute network of bus service, reserved bus lanes, and have a network of protected bike lanes.”
When asked about Tesla and their recent popularity, Strain doesn’t believe that they are the answer to transit or climate change. “They’re kind of these big, expensive, quick techno fixes to the problem of climate change, when we already kind of know what we have to do,” said Strain.
There is also the issue of where the electricity comes from in Saskatchewan, which is mostly coal, according to Strain. He also stated, “there’s issues around, you know, lithium and getting enough of that, and sourcing out and building new cars and the carbon impact of building all the new cars.”
Strain said that though electric cars and busses will probably play a part in the future, he doesn’t believe they are the answer right now.
One of the primary issues Regina transit users face is the infrequency of bus routes. Tina Millar, who is the Workers with Disabilities representative at the Regina District Labour Council (RDLC), commented on the state of transit by stating, “to be honest, on behalf of people with disabilities, in my area of Regina, there is no bus between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. I’ve contacted them numerous times about it and all they gave me was [that the lack of busses is] because of low ridership. I am a person with a disability that needs transit in the winter.” This is the cyclical argument of Regina transit, where the city says it won’t increase funding or run more routes because of a lack of ridership, but people won’t ride the bus because underfunding and infrequent service makes it too inconvenient. And people like Millar, who have to ride the bus, suffer the consequences.
Another addition to the transit system Tina believes to be essential is more paratransit busses. She added that urb cuts, where the sidewalk slopes down to the street, need to be much more abundant, so wheelchairs can access all sidewalks.
Millar said the most important issue with transit is affordability. She told the Carillon, “When I first started working for Safeway here in Regina, it was really pricey for me because I had next to no hours […] And this was back in 2009 when I first started, so 12 years ago. Now that I’ve been there long enough, now I can afford it.” Millar said that she believes transit should be free.