Little buses and big ideas

I have this Calgary friend who every time she comes to visit, asks: “Why does Red Deer have all these big empty transit buses running around? Why not use smaller buses?”

I have this Calgary friend who every time she comes to visit, asks: “Why does Red Deer have all these big empty transit buses running around? Why not use smaller buses?”

And every time I answer: “I don’t know.”

Now I can hardly wait to tell her she may have to quit with the annoying questions because right here in River City, light years ahead of Calgary of course, we could see some little buses with Red Deer Transit.

It’s one of the ideas coming out of current city council budget deliberations, not as a budget item at the moment but as part of the grand scheme of things in the not-to-distant future.

The small bus idea could come up again during the Transit Master Plan update later this year. City Coun. Frank Wong has pushed for the smaller buses for some time apparently, although current budget discussions was where I first heard about it.

Essentially, little buses would feed into the larger major routes. In some cases, smaller buses would also be able to go where the big buses can’t, like in older neighbourhoods. Interestingly, large buses cannot get into the new seniors development in the Michener area, so they have no bus service. Why would a seniors development not accommodate busing?

Something else that’s come up in budget discussions is the possible end to the nice little touch offered in Red Deer’s fabulous park system — free firewood. It seems a certain segment of our late evening society likes to use the free wood to start big fires and that sometimes leads to burning down or damaging picnic shelters. Alas, every city has a moron factor — even Red Deer.

These little things, like free firewood, are often what makes a better place to live — things like the city maintaining community rinks or the downtown skating oval, or keeping the weeds down in playgrounds.

One of the scarier items mentioned during the budget talks is the possibility of establishing a third city snow storage site, at a possible cost of $4.9 million.

Whoa! This is a record snowfall winter, so our two snow storage areas are nearing capacity. But how can a snow storage area cost nearly $5 million? If we don’t see this kind of snow for another 50 years, it will be a major waste to spend this kind of money. Council should be looking at this item very, very closely.

They might find it makes more economic sense to buy equipment that turns snow into water as a way of moving it.

There are many much bigger items in the city’s 2014 operating budget, estimated at about $305 million, worthy of note. One, of course, is the revamped snow control policy that won’t kick in until the next winter season.

I hope the city’s learning a lot from the unprecedented current situation, and will apply it to the future. We should give big kudos to those front-line workers who are under big pressure and who have been grading city streets since November.

One final budget note that could become quite a concern:

Soon into this year, the city plans to implement an 18-month pilot project that will see unarmed civilians — instead of a police officers — handle non-urgent police complaints.

The idea is to speed up the city’s response to lower priority complaints, which actually comprise about 60 per cent of the calls. It will also free up the real cops to deal with more serious crime. This is something citizens should watch closely. Apparently, there’s a lot of citizen frustration over lower priority complaints not being dealt with quick enough.

If the city doesn’t lay out the pilot project clearly, and communicate so that citizens understand what it’s trying to accomplish, it could be dead before it gets out of the gate.

Mary-Ann Barr is the Advocate’s assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.

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