City Council Wrapup: Somebody Please Fix the Feedback Problem!

Don't know how much was spent on the year-old PA system in city hall, but that sure is some tax dollars hard at work.

Hard at work wrecking my hearing, that is.

Surprise shrieks of feedback have been happening since, well, since the system was installed as far as I can remember. But things have been getting steadily worse. Tonight, it seemed if anyone spoke even slightly louder than normal, they'd be greeted with howls from the speakers. It was clearly bothering some of the delegations and even warranted some very testy comments from Councillor Clipsham.

Apparently, the problem is "being looked into."

In other news, want to know how to really provoke council's ire? Suggest raising property taxes to avoid the necessity of a 25 cent transit fare increase.

That's what former mayoral candidate, Jim Elliott, did, and boy howdy, did they let him have it. Normally, when Elliott appears before council to promote his left-wing, radical socialist, hippy agenda, the response is a "seeing no questions, thank you, you may return to the gallery." Tonight there were questions. Questions aplenty.

Elliott's argument was essentially that while a 25 cent fare increase seems small, there was a 15 cent increase in August so the two should be considered together and a 40 cent increase over a calendar year is starting to look a little on the steep side. He suggested that any increase will have a negative impact on low income users of transit and that maybe further fare increases should wait until there are some demonstrable improvements to the transit system.

Under questioning, he suggested that a property tax increase would be preferable to a fare increase as it would spread the impact out farther.

Ignoring Elliott's point that the fare increase they should really be discussing is 40 cents over a year, Councillor Fougere argued that a 25 cent increase is very small and pointed out that the discounted transit passes for low income people are not increasing at all in price. He also wondered aloud if Elliott would rather transit users pay nothing to ride the bus. Elliot said, no, he'd just like to see their contribution to transit not increase at this time.

Councillor Hincks, who seemed very cranky at the suggestion of a tax increase, pointed out that Regina's transit rates, before this hike, is among the lowest in the country. Elliot argued that by keeping our transit fees lower than other cities we're giving ourselves a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting new residents. He didn't take the obvious dig that maybe our transit fees should be lower because our transit system isn't as good as other cities'.

Councillor Clipsham argued that the current ratio of user fees to city subsidization of transit is about right (one third paid for from fees, the rest from municipal coffers). He also asked the administration about the effect on ridership from last year's 15 cent price increase. According to the Director of Transit, David Onodera, ridership increased. This prompted Clipsham to suggest that Elliot's concerns that price hikes would drive people away were unfounded.

Once Elliott was allowed to return to his seat, I think he'd received more direct attention from city hall than during his entire run for mayor.

In the end, council voted unanimously that fares should go up.

Everything else on the agenda also passed unanimously. That includes the Transit Investment Plan and its attendant action plan.

The one exception was a motion made by Councillor Clipsham during discussion of the fare increase. He requested that administration, as part of their comprehensive review of parking, look into the feasibility and desirability of linking transit fares to downtown parking fees. Only councillors Fougere and Findura voted against this.

Oh yeah... A tip to anyone considering appearing as a delegate before council: If you're planning to say something critical of what council is doing -- especially if it has something to do with things like transit, programs for low income people or housing -- be prepared for this question: "Have you brought your concerns to the provincial government?"

Now, to be fair, the point council's making is that some of the stuff that people want to complain to them about is in part, or even wholly, a provincial concern. Still, the question is a great diversion tactic that can throw someone unused to council proceedings right off their game. (I should know. They hit me with a version of this the one time I appeared before council.)


Martin G said...

Yes they sure gave Mr. Elliott a talking to. I thought some of the tone was verging on disrespectful: Councillor Clipsham asking about the 15 cent increase and rise in revenues and ridership, after Mr. Onodera confirmed the rise the councillor seemed to ridicule Elliott's concept of higher costs = less riders with a quip something like 'maybe it's because the driver's buttons are shinier, who knows?'
In my own experience, my personal bus use has increased over the period because I don't ride my bike during winter. Is there a seasonal yearly increase in revenues? One might like to ask Mr. Onodera. Oh but that's not how council works.

Councillors Bryce and Murray along with Mr. Onodera seemed to conclude that non of those concerned citizens Mr. Elliott had spoken to had spoken to Councillor Murray and he knocked on every door last campaign... never came up. Though Mr. Onodera's contribution of 'people are resigned' to the increase probably wasn't that helpful to council's collective effort. It's hard to describe, but in person it felt like, by time councillor Bryce's contribution came along, a little orange hanky should have been tossed for 'pilling on.'

Generally I disagreed with Mr. Elliott in this instance, users should pay their share, especially since the Transit Investment Plan suggests 7 million annual ridership (page 9) (of course some break down of pass, versus cash is required along with nearly 20% using a transfer [page 9]for a true comparison). Mr. Elliott suggesting 2-3 cents from the 200 000 people might be equal to 25 cents for the millions of trips means, in this case, the revenue numbers weren't on Mr. Elliott's side.

Still, after tonight and the treatment of Lee Harding during the city manager pay raise meeting (where councillor's Murray and Hincks walked-out during Mr. Harding's presentation) it seems to me people should expect to receive a frosty reception if you go to council with a presentation that is not pleasing. Councillor Clipsham will often talk about respectful debate in council, I'm wondering if he means just between councillors. Councillors shouldn't be walking out on presenters, or hammering away points from the safety of question/statement after a presentation and then hide behind "respectful debate" if someone gets rough on them in the media or in public.

I'm new to this council chambers stuff so maybe the imbalance of power is status quo for everyone.

Oh and the SE by-pass. Councillor Browne's concerns about the Creeks development being too close to the proposed route may have been allayed by Councillor Fougere but by-passes always promote the expansion of developments out to meet them. No the Creeks may not be effected but the Swamps, Sloughs or Bogs developments of the future might need sound barriers. "Who ever thought ring road would be in the middle of the city?" Increasing roads also doesn't usually decrease congestion, traffic and hassle.

Barb Saylor said...

My post seems not to have gone through, for some reason; I shall try again.
A few things to remember when presenting to government (at any level) - and none of these is meant as a reflection on any particular person:
(1) Be thoroughly prepared; anticipate questions and prepare answers.
(2) Remember that the elected officials ask questions on behalf of the public, and are therefore entitled to ask for clarification, implications, alternatives, etc.
(3) Don't confuse questions with debate. Debate takes place among the elected officials, not with the presenter.
(4) Take the long view in re: what you're trying to accomplish.
I agree with City Council's decision to raise fares, and I applaud Councillor Clipsham's motion; both are consistent with the Plan's recommendations.