Transit user troubled with response to concerns

Jodi Schellenberg
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The debate about public transit in Prince Albert continues.

Patrick Fairbairn now has about 180 signatures on his petition asking for the buses to be in better condition, extended hours and asking for the city to run the transit service rather than contracting it out.

Patrick Fairbairn, a transit user who started a petition to help improve the bus service in the city, is concerned with comments made by city council on Monday’s meeting.

In Tuesday’s Daily Herald, Mayor Greg Dionne was quoted as saying the bus service was “already heavily subsidized” and he would rather “subsidize the cab company.”

The transit users feel council is not listening to their concerns, said Fairbairn.

“Mayor Dionne was elected to hopefully bring about some change and that is not just for influential people but it is for everybody,” Fairbairn said. “The whole reason I pushed for this over a year ago is because we were getting such lousy service and I wanted to see that stopped.”

Fairbairn called Dionne’s comments “very disturbing” and said it isn’t right.

“He seems to care less for anybody except himself and his own little private agenda -- the cultural centre for example,” Fairbairn said. “The bus service is supposed to be a central core service. People should be able to get to and from work without taking a cab all the time.”

Although he is the most public with his concerns, Fairbairn is not the only person to feel council isn’t looking out for those using the transit service.

Patricia Laplante has also voiced her opinion in the past on two separate occasions. After the last council meeting she wrote a letter to Dionne and his fellow councillors.

Her concerns are very similar to Fairbairn’s and she feels they are not being heard.

One of her main points was about the snow conditions at some of the bus stops in the city.

“My husband removed the snow so passengers could get on and off the buses and in front of the bench also,” Laplante wrote.

While riding the bus, she has noticed only about half of the bus stops are cleared of snow, causing many people to stand on the road to wait for the bus.

Both Laplante and Fairbairn would like to see extended hours for the bus service.

The second point on Fairbairn’s petition said riders would like to see “hours of operation to be changed to seven days per week with longer hours during weekdays and Saturdays.”

Although the petition asks for seven days a week, Fairbairn said he doesn’t expect it to happen all at once.

“I’ve had people suggest because stores are open late Thursdays and Fridays later, let’s run a later service Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Fairbairn said. “Just start it off that way to see how it works. Experiment with it. If it doesn’t work, (the riders) have no one to thank but themselves.”

Laplante has also asked for extended hours for the bus service.

“The recommendation of Saturday service extended hours is something I have been supporting for quite some time,” she said. “It would be a lot more convenient to get back and forth to work, not only for me, but for others who work.”

Thursday hours being extended would also make sense since most stores have longer hours of operation those evenings, she explained.

According to the transit survey the city held, 69.95 per cent of respondents said they would use the bus service on Thursday evenings.

Fairbairn thought Dionne would be more on board with the proposed extended hours.

“I know we have to have a balancing of things -- the GST tax credit was knocked down by three per cent and that hurts,” Fairbairn said. “It is a big ouch, but don’t just use that as an excuse to write off the transit needs of people here.”

Charging the users slightly more to ride the bus is acceptable, Laplante said, if they want to lower the amount the buses are subsidized.

“As a taxpayer, I do support a 25 cent increase in fares for everyone across the board,” she said.

Another concern they both share is the quality of the buses. Even though many of the buses are not in great condition, Fairbairn said, the bus riders do not expect numerous new buses to be purchased.

A proposal brought forward to council suggested buying four or five new buses with features for handicapped people. Both Fairbairn and Laplante agreed that is not a good option.

“I do not think that spending money on four new buses at this time would be feasible,” Laplante said. “Perhaps more funding could be found to take the load off the taxpayers for the purchase of these buses.”

Fairbairn said instead of thinking so big, they should start adding new buses gradually.

“The thing is, if we could start off with getting one little bus, maybe a shorter version of the low rider,” Fairbairn said. “I told (the city manager) I’d be more than happy to help fundraise if that’s what needs to be done. You have to get creative. You can’t just say to hell with it, it is good enough as it is. That is not performance.”

After looking at a copy of the original contract between First Canada and the ity, Fairbairn was disappointed to see the bus company was not fulfilling many of the required points in the contract.

One of the points in the contract said drivers are to assist handicapped people on and off the bus if they need it.

“One woman had to get on the transit bus and she has a lot of arthritis, in the East Flats bus route, and the low rider part of it at the side entrance would not work properly,” Fairbairn said. “She had to literally crawl onto the bus to get onto it. A passenger helped her -- that driver didn’t get out of his seat to help her.”

He also said the buses are not being properly maintained or cleaned, which is also expected in their contract.

“I looked into Moose Jaw’s operation -- they’ve had their own bus system of some sort since 1950,” Fairbairn said. “They have seven buses right now. They got them through various means -- federal grants, GST tax credit and fundraising.

“They have a smaller population base than we do and have their own transit system,” he added. “They are fairly happy with it, the hours we are trying to shoot for.”

He suggests looking at Moose Jaw to come up with a viable transit model for Prince Albert since it is an essential service for the city.

“I am legally blind and can’t drive, other people don’t have a vehicle,” Fairbairn said. “I’m doing this for my self, yes, but I am doing it for everybody that has to get around. I’m doing it for people who have a job.

“I spoke to one lady when I got her signature on my petition -- she is a single mother with a couple of kids and she has to work on the weekends,” he added. “Cab fare, because of the hours she has to work, that is just about killing her. She can’t take the kids anywhere on a Sunday. She can’t go the Kinsmen (Park) and have a barbecue.”

It is time for things to change and for people to make their voices heard, he said.

“It is the same concerns I had over a year ago and no one is listening,” Fairbairn said. “Or they are listening and they are not doing anything about it?”

Fairbairn already has 180 people who have signed his petition and want to see positive change.

“If not, as I said before, I am prepared to go to full protest,” Fairbairn said. “I don’t want to see it go that far but Mr. Dionne has to wake up and smell the coffee. He is there to represent everybody as much as possible, not just forgetting about the (little) people.”

Both Fairbairn and Laplante will be attending the council meeting on Monday to bring their concerns straight to the people making the decisions.

“I don’t know what is going to happen but we are not going to give up.”

Organizations: Daily Herald, Prince Albert

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, East Flats

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