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Saskatoon Transit undergoing 5-year overhaul

Watch above: Saskatoon Transit is undergoing a five-year overhaul. Jim McDonald discusses how the changes will affect riders and how they want to get everyone in the city involved in the process. 

SASKATOON – Building a better service to make it more customer friendly and adapting to a growing city. Those are the challenges facing Saskatoon Transit as they undergo a five-year plan to overhaul the service.

Changes include moving from the aging bus barns in Caswell Hill to the new Civic Operations Centre – and working towards a Bus Rapid Transit system – and better relations with customers and transit employees.

“It will take time,” said Jim McDonald, the city’s transit manager. But he is enthusiastic about the process.

“Just absolutely trying to provide better support and better service to the citizens of Saskatoon,” McDonald told Global News, “and at the same time, providing that better support and better service to all the people who work at Saskatoon transit.”

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The five-year plan goes before the city’s transportation committee on Monday. But it will take years to implement.

Part of it is creating a new section within transit focused on customer service.

“One of the things I really want to do is I want to engage more with the employees,” he said, “and one of the things I am bringing is this idea that we are all customers to each other, and trying to change that to a customer service focus.”

He wants transit to consult with staff and the public on what people expect from the system. By early next year, he’s hoping that can be turned into what he calls “customer promises – you might call it a customer charter.”

“First we’re going to roll it out to our staff and then we’re going to roll it out to the citizens of the city, and ask them does this resonate with you, is this what you’re looking for us to provide you?” he said. “And then in January we’ll roll it out across the board.”

The move to the new Civic Operations Centre in 2017 will require operational and scheduling changes for all employees – a big job in itself.

READ MORE: City finds $5M to buy 10 new Saskatoon Transit buses

McDonald also wants to see transit renewing its fleet, with all buses completely accessible by 2018.

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And as the city approaches half-a-million people, transit is moving toward a rapid transit system.

McDonald said there is a Bus Rapid Transit plan scheduled to go before council next March, but the department is already looking at minor changes to show people what a bus rapid transit system would look like.

“We’ll take existing routes and try and change them so we can develop faster frequencies,” he said, such as routes along 8th and 22nd Streets.

McDonald also wants to open the doors to more public understanding of transit, such as “transit on tap.” He’s proposing having evenings where transit staff could meet with the public and discuss the issues – for example, at a coffee shop.

“We’ll open the doors and say this is how we plan our routes, this is how we plan where we put bus stops,” he said. “We’re not going to talk about particular places – we’re going to try to show people the back end of what transit does so that people can understand that. When you have that two way understanding the tension goes down quite a lot.”

READ MORE: Contract talks resume between Saskatoon Transit, union

Renewing the transit system is not a small job. The transit union is currently in contract talks with the city.

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Last year drivers were locked out for a month – a portion of the lockout later ruled illegal. The union has said morale is not good.

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