The award for Big News Story from last night’s council meeting should probably go to the ratification of the collective agreement with the Regina Civic Middle Management Association, while runner up would then be the Out-of-Scope workers getting a 2.6 per cent wage increase. But I’m going to put them off for a bit because they aren’t what’s got me in a lather and wanting to write today.
No, the award for “News Story That’s Most Stuck In My Craw” has to go to the decision to extend Regina Transit’s experiment with Automatic Vehicle Location — aka, TransitLive.
If you’ve been listening to the podcast or following me on the twitter then you may have noticed that I’m not a fan. And apparently I’m the only person in all of Regina who feels this way. The rest of you seem to love it to bits.
But here’s the thing, I’m a frequent user of transit. And it was a little irksome to hear in the post-meeting scrum the mayor saying that, thanks to TransitLive, riders will no-longer have to wait around in the cold for their bus to come.
And yet, I’ve spent a great deal of time lately doing that very thing, TransitLive or no. And that’s because to use TransitLive as it’s intended you pretty much have to have a mobile phone.
And I don’t have one.
I know. No mobile and no car. It’s like I’m poor or something.
Except, I’m not. But some of the people who rely on transit are. And some regular transit users are elderly people — or aging contrarians as the case may be — who haven’t thrown their lot in with that whole portable telephone fad. TransitLive isn’t helping them much.
Sure, I suppose you can use TransitLive from a computer at home or call in through an antiquated land-line system. But those only help when you’re leaving to go somewhere. When you’re hoping to get back to where you live, TransitLive is once again pretty useless without a cell. Seems any solution to the problem of buses not always being where they’re scheduled to be that requires everyone who uses the system to buy an electronic device and pay monthly usage charges isn’t much of a solution at all to a large portion of transit’s traditional audience.
And that’s why I’m pretty suspicious of this scheme to use satellites to improve the bus service. Actually, I’m pretty suspicious any time somebody tries to throw technology at a problem that could be solved just by doing the core job better.
I mean, the solution to all my transit system woes is buses that come more often and when they’re supposed to.
But, I would argue, there’s actually a risk that TransitLive will only make those problems worse because it removes an incentive to fix them.
Thanks to TransitLive, buses getting to stops on time is no longer crucial, it’s only sort of crucial, because everybody presumably can find out with the click of an app when the buses diverge from the posted schedule.
And putting more buses on the road so that the wait times between buses is shorter is less important once you assume people aren’t waiting around outside so much.
Now, staff did say that they are using the data from the bus tracking system to gauge how close the buses are able to stick to their schedules and thereby fix problems with their timing. So that’s good. And combined with the computerized farebox data I imagine they can get pretty detailed information about how people are using the system.
But still… I don’t know. Call me a technophobic curmudgeon but the whole thing just kind of feels like a cheat or a dodge. And TransitLive looks to me like a very pretty but ultimately over-hyped gew-gaw.
Maybe it’ll all work out in the end and I’ll be proven wrong. Maybe you love TransitLive and want to school me on what a fool I’m being. If so, go nuts in the comments section.
Regardless, I honestly hope I’m proven wrong in the long run. Because I’m sick of having to stand around outside waiting in the snow for a bus that has a habit of arriving anywhere up to 15 minutes late.
Other highlights from last night’s meeting…
• Councillor O’Donnell reported back from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities November meeting. They will once again be asking the federal government to step up with long-term, sustainable infrastructure funding starting in 2014 that will replace the soon-to-expire Building Canada Fund. They’re asking for an annual investment from Ottawa of $5.75 billion which represents only 2.3 per cent of the federal budget.
• Council also received a report on the wastewater treatment plant upgrade project. Thanks to inflation in the construction market, the cost as risen to $207 million — up from a low estimate of $153 million +/- 20 per cent. Staff are saying that the city will likely have to take on significant debt to cover this cost (I’m pretty sure we’ve known this for a long time though).
• A whole schwack of interim payments were approved for capital projects and to organizations like the Downtown BID and RROC which are funded by the city. This was done because, to accommodate the new council, the 2013 budget is going out a little later than last year and those groups and projects will need money right at the start of the new year.
• Citizen appointees to the city’s various committees were finalized. I won’t copy the list of people here as you can download them yourself on the city’s webiste. The file you want is Appendix A. And in report CR12-179, which is also on that page, there’s a really good primer on how committee appointments are made. It’s worth a read if you think knowing stuff like that is important.
• As I mentioned above, the city ratified an 18 month collective agreement with the Regina Civic Middle Managers’ Association (CMM). City managers will be getting a 3.5 per cent wage increase in 2013 but none in 2014. So the overall wage increase works out to 2.6 per cent annually. CMM also signed a Letter of Understanding to help in coming up with a job evaluation plan which is to be completed by Dec 31, 2013. The report notes that this is the first time the city has resolved a collective agreement before it expired. So, yay team! And it’s because of this that I picked this as the Big News Story of the night.
• The city also ratified a 2.6 per cent wage increase for Out-of-Scope workers. That’s intended to be in line with the CMM’s agreed wage increase.
• A stretch of Elgaard Drive north of Rochdale Blvd has been renamed Galloway Street. In presenting this, Councillor Mike O’Donnell seemed to make some kind of football joke involving punting. I didn’t get it but council laughed.
And that’s it. There was more on the agenda but I think this covers all the really noteworthy stuff. If you want to read all the stuff I’ve skipped along with the full reports of what I’ve covered, you can download everything on the city’s website.
But before I wrap this — the last This Week At City Hall of 2012 — a couple quick points.
First, wow. Novice Councillor Fraser has been an impressive addition to council so far. And I’m not just saying that because he’s the councillor for my ward. Not only does he have the most significant committee commitment of any councillor, he’s also up all the time asking questions and challenging staff to explain themselves more fully. He’s stumbled a bit with the rules of order a couple times but that’s to be expected. He even seems to be laying out a list of things he’d like to consider changing in future. Things like water utility charges that are better designed to encourage demand-side use management. Hopefully as his term continues this will translate in to some tangible motions and enquiries. Because those make my job more interesting.
And last, I just wanted to note that for 2013, my resolution will be to bring This Week At City Hall back as a weekly feature. I’ve had to let it slide a bit this year and only focus on the weeks when there’s something really newsworthy or funny that’s worth covering. But I’ve missed writing these and when I’m not doing them religiously I start to feel like I’m losing my city hall edge.
So anyway, I only mention this because I figure if I put it in print then that’ll force me to follow through on the promise. Feel free to harass me if I end up missing a week.
Okay, thanks for reading. And I’ll be back in 2013 with more blow-by-blow city hall coverage. Have a very Happy Cthulhumas, a Festive Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or, hey, even a Merry “Christmas” if that’s how you roll.
To play you out, one of my favourite, old timey holiday carols….