Mayor turns down transit challenge

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A public transit bus stopped in parking. Someone wants to get on the bus but are unable to do so because of the huge pile of snow right at the bus’ door.
Sad as this may be, wading through a mountain of snow is often the easiest part of taking a Regina transit bus. OpenClipArt-Vectors via Pixabay, manipulated by Lee Lim

For many, the challenge of using Regina public transit is simply a necessity

I started taking the city bus in Regina when I was 14 years old. I had just hit high school, and I auditioned my way into a couple of choir groups there which I was excited about. But practices were in the south end of the city and started almost an hour before morning classes, which was when my three younger siblings had to be at school. My parents with their house in the north end didn’t want to make two trips across the city each morning, so I would wake up between 5:30-6 a.m. a few times a week to catch the bus alone that could get me to rehearsal before 8 a.m. 

City transit has been my main mode of transportation for roughly the last decade, and I will ever be grateful for the U-Pass I have now, but I’d describe my overall experience as bittersweet. Walking to the bus stop in the early morning for the most part is serene, whether it’s just snowed and you get to be the first footprints to crunch through the drifts, or the summer sun’s beginning to beat down while dew still twinkles on the lawns you stroll by.  

To contrast, missing your bus transfer in minus- or plus-40C can mean you’re stuck outside at an unsheltered stop in that weather until the next bus is scheduled to come. This can be a full hour later, and that’s if you’re lucky enough there’s still another bus scheduled that day.  

There was one winter night when I was planning to bus home late after work, but the last bus for the night didn’t show up. I was stuck walking home in the late evening of early January, and my feet were frostbitten red and yellow from the cold by the time I got there. 

That was six years ago, but our transit system even now still leaves it up to the individuals who use city buses to figure things out. I think it should be up to the city to figure out how to make a transit system useful to individuals, and I’m also confident that more people would use the transit system if it were simply designed to be used by more people.  

The mayor’s response to the transit challenge from the Regina Citizens Public Transit Coalition (RCPTC) demonstrates my point for me. RCPTC is a group of locals seeking to better the transit system for everyone in Regina, and they recently challenged city councillors and the mayor to use public transit for 48 hours within the two-week period of March 6-19, 2023. At the time of writing, there are two councillors – Shanon Zachidniak of Ward 8 and Cheryl Stadnichuk of Ward 1 – who have announced they’ll be participating in both the challenge and RCPTC’s experience survey afterward, but Mayor Sandra Masters will not personally be participating in either element.  

The mayor’s office relayed to the Regina Leader-Post that, due to “scheduling constraints,” she will not be able to commit to completing the challenge. Masters is evidently unable to use the transit system for even 48 of the 336 hours in that two-week period.  

There could be many reasons for this, and assumptions of course range from charitable to stereotypical. It could be, for example, that Masters and the staff at the mayor’s office did try to shuffle around her schedule to make the transit challenge possible, but there are meetings that she must attend that cannot be rescheduled. I would still find it hard to believe that 48 hours could not be made from the 336 total hours to choose from, but at my most charitable, this is what I’d wager.  

Edging toward the stereotypical side, I would also entertain the wager that Masters and staff deemed this challenge unnecessary due to its inconvenience. Many people who don’t frequently take transit in Regina don’t realize the amount of time it can take to get to your end destination. It’s roughly a 12-minute drive from my house to the university, but bussing there can take up to 75 minutes – and that’s only if the buses are on time and I’m able to make my scheduled transfer downtown. Worst case scenario, I have spent three-and-a-half hours in a single day just commuting from my house to campus and then back home again. 

I’d argue it would be understandable if our mayor cannot make that sort of time for either reason, because, realistically, neither can I. The difference is that I don’t get the option to opt out, much like the majority of other people who regularly use city transit.  

My average income from jobs over the past decade sits around $13,000 per year, meaning a vehicle and its upkeep – never mind current gas prices – are simply out of the question. Without including any sort of bonus or job perk, mayor Masters’ salary in 2021 was $150,217, so I doubt that she’s (recently, at least) had to operate under similar circumstances.  

She simply does not have to ‘make things work’ because she can afford not to, and because she has people to help her work around this system. The irony here is that Masters is still a part of the public and that the transit system is meant to be a public service, so this clearly displays that this public service is not a service to all of the public. Add to that the fact that Masters is not a member of the public who has no other option, and it’s apparent that her decision to not participate in the RCPTC transit challenge is a ‘canary in the coal mine’ moment. 

 The transit system’s current model is that those who need to use it just have to make things work. We’re seeing with this challenge that that’s just not feasible, even for someone who primarily works downtown, which is where most bus routes are designed to service. If things are rough for Masters, if she is truly unable or unwilling to make the current transit system work for even 48 of 336 hours, how does she think the rest of us are faring?   

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