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Is BRT a new Sandwich at Tim Hortons?

 No. Bus rapid transit is a bus based mass transit system. A BRT system generally has specialized design, services and infrastructure to improve system quality and remove the typical causes of delay. Sometimes described as a “surface subway”, BRT aims to combine the capacity and speed of light rail or a metro with the flexibility, lower cost and simplicity of a bus system

Why is BRT relevant to Saskatoon?

Saskatoon is growing and so is the demand for fast and efficient transportation. Cars and roadways are an expensive, space wasting and inefficient solution. That is why the City of Saskatoon is looking to plan for a more efficient transit system that will alleviate congestion and promote accessibility. Their current citizen engagement project called Growing Forward! Shaping Saskatoon! Is exploring rapid transit options that would serve as the spine of Saskatoon Transit services. Instead of light rail, Saskatoon is following in the footsteps of many other Canadian cities like Winnipeg and Gatineau and looking into Bus Rapid Transit.

What would make BRT faster than other buses?

  • Alignment in the centre of the road (to avoid typical curb-side delays)
  • Limited stops
  • Stations with off-board fare collection (to reduce boarding and delay related to paying the driver)
  • Station platforms level with the bus floor (to reduce boarding and alighting delay caused by steps)
  • Bus priority at intersections (to avoid intersection signal delay)

How many cities have implemented BRT systems?

186 cities worldwide on all continents

What are some ways to evaluate if the BRT is working well after implemented?

Local passenger demand is a good indicator if the system is efficient.

Sources: Wikipedia and City of Saskatoon

Photo Source:

Sources: Wikipedia and City of Saskatoon


Would You Consider Selling Your Car?

I am a big advocate for walking, cycling and riding the bus. But this past summer I decided to walk the walk, bike the bike and ride the bus instead of just talking the talk… I took the leap and sold my car! I have been car free for half a year without even checking the kijiji used car listings once. Actually, the fruits of a car free lifestyle have been economical, good for my health, overall refreshing and somewhat surprising. Here are a few examples of how my life has changed since selling my car:

  • Everyday I take the bus with interesting people and have great conversations or just some awesome people watching time. (Although we like to pretend we don’t, human beings need person to person interaction and sitting in a car in traffic doesn’t facilitate that. )
  • I have adapted to a pre set bus schedule instead of my own ‘leave-with-enough-time-to-speed-there’ timing. But I can report that it has made me more stress free and consistently early for things.
  • Now I have time on the bus to read, eat, drink, text, or nap.
  • Gas prices are low right now but they are lowest when you don’t have a vehicle !!
  • I have started being more intentional with my trips instead of running around doing ‘quick’ errands.
  • I haven’t gotten a single parking ticket since I sold my car.

I did a little more research into the cost of driving a car on our pocket books and to our health and came across some astonishing information. Including depreciation, the car loan, gas and license, the cost of having a vehicle ranges between $8,000 to $14,000 per year. Obviously this is depends on many factors and so CAA has created an online cost estimator. Check it out: . This doesn’t include parking and according to The Partnership in Saskatoon, a parking spot downtown can range in price from $100 to $300 depending on location and amenities. Keep in mind that the cost of a monthly adult bus pass is $80 and $960 per year. If the car free option still doesn’t appeal to you maybe this statistic will change your mind. According to the National Safety Council, the odds of dying in a car accident next year are 1 in 17, 635. Whereas the odds of dying in a bus accident are only 1 in 6, 696, 307. So take transit… your life might depend on it!

Many people in Saskatoon would laugh if I proposed that they give up their car. But if you take away one thing from reading this blog post be it that… some people think riding the bus isn’t so bad afterall.


Past and Present

In my opinion, Park Cafe on 20th Street West is a great spot for breakfast, and not just because it serves up the best rendition of the classic eggs-bacon-toast-hashbrowns combo that I’ve found to date (apologies to Broadway Cafe, Fil’s Diner in Ottawa, Star Diner in Kingston, and countless other greasy spoons I’ve feasted at). Nestled amongst the prerequisite 1950’s decorations – red stools and benches, car signs, and a rendition of Elvis in a convertible across the street from the cafe – are amazing historic photos of Saskatoon, specifically 20 West. These fading shots include an overhead view of the trainyards (the space now inhabited by Idylwyld and Midtown Mall) that originally separated this neighbourhood from the rest of town, as well as photos of street life in a different era where cars were in the picture but did not dominate. Another interesting artifact in those photos are the presence of rails embedded in the street, harkening back to the time when streetcars plied the corridor between downtown and Saskatoon’s then-western reaches, home to the city’s early suburbs. Although I’ve seen these photos countless times by now, they still have a power to transport me to a different time and place, one that’s both familiar and very different from the scene currently outside.

While waiting for my breakfast this morning around 9:30, I saw a 2 bus rush by heading downtown, standing-room only. That split-second view of transportation today got me thinking: would the streetcars that used to run this route be similarly full to overflowing? Would they have run at 15 or 30 minute intervals, or more frequently to allow those who could not have afforded a private vehicle (the majority in those days) easier and more reliable access to transportation? Did riders and non-riders alike view the system with pride, or was it just part of the background of city life, like sidewalks and fire hydrants and lights? What would those riders from past decades (even centuries) think of Saskatoon’s transportation system today?

I’m not advocating for or against a return to rail here – technology, society, and the shape of our city has changed drastically since those photos were taken. Perhaps such images should be left in the past as historical curiosities. However, we can also take inspiration from them: not for a specific route or vehicle, but for a time when transportation was a visible part of the community and helped shaped what the neighbourhood was and continues to be.

Better Bus Stops- The Fundamentals

Transit planners have generally observed transit users will tolerate a 400m distance to access a local service transit. However, people are willing to walk much further for faster, BRT service. But keeping with the 400m radius distance, below is a 400m radius drawn around the bus stop (red dot).

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If you draw circles around stops based on the assumption of a 400m radius, you’re implying that the whole circle is within walking distance. In fact, even with in the pedestrian grid on the right, the area within 400m walk (outlined in blue) is only 64% of the red circle. With an obstructed suburban network like the left image, it can be less than 30%. Unfortunately, Saskatoon is mainly composed of obstructed pedestrian networks. Walking distance determines how far apart the stops can be. Stop spacing determines operating speed. So, the nature of the street network actually does determine how fast the transit service is. We will go into more detail about the relationship between land use and transit in a later post.

This bring us to the question about how close bus stops should be… is it worse to create a duplicate coverage area or leave a coverage gap? What do you think? It depends on whether Saskatoon transit is trying to meet the needs of transit-dependent persons or to compete for high ridership.

Another important consideration for bus stop placing is to adjust locations on busy streets so that pedestrians can safely cross at every stop. I remember last year when there were angry parents at City Council fighting for another pedestrian crossing on 20th street to accommodate the bus stop and stop their kids from jay walking.

Saskatoon transit, along with almost every other city in North America has done the local-stop service as the basic product and the limited stop high speed service as an add on? What would happen if they did the opposite. It all comes down to the fact that the faster transit runs, the more it competes with cars. The slower it runs, the more it competes with walking. Which competition is more urgent?

Source: Human Transit

Adopt a Stop Program

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Source: wikipedia

What if Saskatoon started a program where community partners help maintain bus stops throughout the city. Individuals or groups (community groups, small businesses or schools) could apply to adopt an Saskatoon Transit bus stop for a commitment of one year. The adopter would pledge to keep their adopted bus stop clean and perform some simple duties that I will go into further below. Bus stop adopters will be publicly recognized with a sign at the adopted bus stop and recognition on Saskatoon Transit’s web site.

Some of the duties and requirements that the program could include would be

-Regularly maintain (at least once a week) the adopted bus stop by being responsible for trash pick-up.
-When it snows, clear a sidewalk path from the nearest curb ramp to the bus stop and a path from the bus stop to the road.
-Report vandalism, disturbances, safety issues, and items left at the bus stop to Saskatoon Transit.
-Participants must be 18 years or older, unless they are part of a group. If a group of participants wants to adopt a stop the group leader must be at least 18 years of age and a group form must be filled out and turned in.

In turn, Saskatoon transit would agree to
-Perform, at the participant’s request, graffiti removal, overgrown grass removal and bus stop repairs.
-Install, at the participant’s request, a trash receptacle at the adopted bus stop.
-Provide, at the participant’s request, safety vests for adopters to wear while cleaning the bus stop.

What is in it for the individuals or community groups that adopt a stop?
-Be recognized with a sign at the adopted bus stop. It would likely take 4-6 business weeks to create and install the sign.
-Receive mention in press releases about the Adopt-a-Stop program.
-Be listed on Saskatoon Transit’s website.
-View the list of adoptable bus stops and Sign-up to participate

Sources: This post was inspired by Arlington, VA Adopt-a-Stop program

What about Small Town Sask Transit?

If we take a set back from our Saskatoon perspective and look at  transit from a Saskatchewan perspective, we see even more room for improvements. Saskatoon and Regina’s transit systems are in a unique position of transit leadership to help these smaller communities. No matter the size of the city, town or small community, access to a public form of transit maximizes quality of life and supports a vibrant and equitable society, compact community form, a dynamic and efficient economy, and a healthy natural environment.

One place to start is to encourage all small communities to have a Transit Ridership Growth Plan. This would outlines short and long-term transit ridership goals and steps that will be taken to meet targets. In order to be effective, these plans will need to be high quality and up-to-date.

The next hurdle for small communities is to promote knowledge of their local transit service and inform residents about how to use transit. This can be done through:

  • School programs Simple
  • Informative webpages for transit systems
  • Public events
  • Posters
  • Advertisements Incentives such as discounts at local restaurants with the purchase of a transit pass
  • Visually prominent transit vehicles and facilities

The town of Cochrane, Alberta, (a city about the size of Yorkton, Saskatchewan) has been assessing transit service feasibility. The town council suggested starting with a local ‘dial-a-bus’ system which would be the most appropriate starting point to meet the manageable transit service level in Cochrane. This service would be local, neighbourhood based service to transit stops (or door- to-door) with service on demand, with dispatch for pick-up and drop-off. If approved, the dial-a-bus service could be operational by 2015. What a great idea!

Another example of small scale transit successes is from Alberta is in Banff. Banff’s “Roam” transit system features a total of four hybrid- electric buses. Each of the four buses is covered in panels with images of a Banff National Park wildlife species: bears, mountain goats, elk, and wolves. All photos were taken by Banff’s local photographer John Marriot. Banff’s “Bear” bus The rebranding strategy began in 2008 and has since been highly successful. Over Roam’s first year, bus ridership increased by 36%. The promotion of an appreciation for local wildlife through the panels, rather than the use of bus exteriors for advertising is also a fantastic idea.

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Source :

Better Transit YXE Update

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Here is a bit of an update on our guiding principles:

Community-Based Knowledge: We are currently looking into doing something in collaboration with YXE Voices to share what matters most to transit riders and what they see as areas of improvement. Check out their website:

Back to (Transit) Fundamentals: At the Growing Forward Public engagement session this past week, city planners were proposing a new vision for Saskatoon transit. A ridership based BRT model that will include transit ‘stations’ instead of hubs. Have your say!

Light, Quick, Cheap: We are hoping to do a few bus stop interventions were we hand out coffee, hand warmers and bring along some art. This will be an experiment how to make bus stops people actually want to come to ! Want to help? Drop us a line at

Partnerships: We had a meeting with Sarina from Bus Riders of Saskatoon this week. We talked about areas for collaboration. More to come. In the mean time, check out their very active facebook page

Mapping: We are scheming about possible mapping ideas to visualize the Saskatoon transit system. Like possible mapping access to transit stops via walking trails instead of ‘how to crow flies.’ Also mapping out places that are accessible within 5, 10, 20, 30, 1 hr from certain points in Saskatoon.

Place-Making: We have noticed that there are some second hand buses in circulation that have Calgary Transit colors. #thriftshopbuses Maybe this is what makes Saskatoon Transit unique.

Fun: What if Saskatoon bus drivers set up a twitter page like Bus Driver Al?

Saskatoon-based: We have a puzzling question for Saskatoon Transit users and planners, why is the schedule for buses the same in the summer and winter? Everyone knows that driving in the winter is much slower.

For more of a description of all of these- check out our about page!

Sincerely, Shannon

Mapping out

How To Make Waiting for a Bus Seem Much Shorter

Do you consider yourself a patient person? How about when you are waiting for your bus and its… late! Joyce Meyer said that “patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.” How do you behave when you are waiting for a bus in Saskaton? How long does the wait feel?

Having a shelter at all bus stops would improve perceived wait times. At a no-shelter stop, riders perceived a 5-minute wait to feel about 6 minutes, on average. But riders at the other types of stops, either shelters or full stations, had the opposite experience: a 5-minute wait felt closer to 3 minutes.  (

How could we further improve the bus stops to make the wait time seem even shorter? How about playing music? How about having solar powered heating/ air conditioning? What about increasing the opportunity for social interaction by having a game on the side of the bus stop?

Or maybe we just need to add this to make it seem like there is an alien invasion at your bus stop. The ways we could improve bus stops are endless.