Public transit advocacy in a smaller city

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Mairi Anderson and Cam McMillan. They are members of Bus Riders of Saskatoon, an advocacy group made up of people who use public transit. They aim to make the transit system in their city "a viable transportation choice for all and a basic right of residency."

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is a relatively small city -- about 220,000 people. It has, of course, a public transit system. But like the transit systems in many smaller cities, Saskatoon's has often not had the capacity to offer the kind of geographical reach, frequency, and speed that might most effectively meet the needs of existing and potential riders. As well, according to today's guests, the city has always had a very car-centric culture, and has not historically had any organized advocacy on behalf of people who use transit.

That changed two years ago, with the founding of the Bus Riders of Saskatoon. Both their regular meetings and their social media presence provide a way for bus riders to talk about the transit system in the city, to articulate their complaints and concerns, and to propose ideas for improving the system. They meet regularly with Saskatoon Transit management to communicate these concerns and ideas as well as to develop a better sense of how the system works, and they have regularly communicated the needs of bus riders to Saskatoon city council as well. The group has also taken part in various public events around transit, both those they have planned themselves and as part of broader initiatives.

Though much work remains to be done, the group has been very encouraged by the progress over the last couple of years. Saskatoon Transit has shown a willingness to promptly address small issues (such as inadequate signage at specific bus stops) and has taken some initial steps to make larger scale improvements to the system -- this includes implementing the city's first high speed corridor along a major street, with plans to implement other such routes over the next few years. Though the group largely avoided direct involvement in the longstanding labour dispute between bus drivers and the city, the riders are happy that a contract has at long last been finalized. And media coverage of transit issues, and of the perspective of riders in particular, has been relatively plentiful in the last couple of years, including during the city's recent elections, and as a result Bus Riders of Saskatoon has seen a steady flow of new participants both on social media and at their meetings and events.

Mairi Anderson began to regularly use transit when she moved to Saskatoon several years ago as a student, and currently cycles most of the year and is a regular bus rider in the winter. Cam McMillan has epilepsy and is unable to drive, so he depends on transit year round. Both are active members of Bus Riders of Saskatoon, and they talk with me about the group, the city and the transit system, and the work that they're doing to make it better.

To learn more about the work of Bus Riders of Saskatoon, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image that was modified for use in this post was taken from the Facebook page of Bus Riders of Saskatoon.

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