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Mayor takes a look at New Flyer Industries for city buses

As part of a possible move toward providing its own bus service after July 31, Mayor Tim Johnston toured New Flyer Industries in Winnipeg Feb. 9 "regarding transit bus needs in the City of Thompson," he said.

As part of a possible move toward providing its own bus service after July 31, Mayor Tim Johnston toured New Flyer Industries in Winnipeg Feb. 9 "regarding transit bus needs in the City of Thompson," he said.

The City of Thompson continues to look at how it delivers local bus service to transit riders and is giving serious thought to going into the bus business for itself as of Aug. 1.

"I was very impressed with the facility," Johnston said March 1. "I like touring industry sites and checking them out. We will have to consider if we want that level of bus

(i.e., 20-year life span) and associated cost versus smaller bus. We have an opportunity to piggyback on Brandon order of 30-seater buses for the fall. Council will have to make a decision either way in next couple of weeks," Johnston said.

The city has subcontracted out the delivery of local intra-city bus service to Grey Goose Bus Lines since the inception of transit here in the early 1970s. Grey Goose of Winnipeg was purchased by Greyhound Canada of Calgary in 1998.

The current four-year contract with Grey Goose expires July 31. That contract is based on paying the carrier a subsidy to offer the service. The subsidy is based on a fixed rate of 5,500 hours of annual service. The hourly rate increased to $51.46 in July 2007 from $50.21. Grey Goose keeps all fare revenue under the current deal.

They operate two buses on two routes on a continuous basis throughout the day. Ridership is highest in the early morning, just before school starts, and in mid-afternoon when classes end, ridership surveys have shown.

The city has been reviewing its options for when the contract expires since 2007. At a public consultation meeting May 19, 2007, a number of ideas, still on the table, were tossed out including using smaller buses, posting bus schedules on markers along the route and making bus stops closer together.

City manager Randy Patrick said last month that council would likely decide by April which option to pursue. The two most likely scenarios are re-tendering the transit contract, in which case Grey Goose could bid again, if it wished, along with other carriers, if there any interested, or the City of Thompson could forge ahead with establishing its own bus system. Or it could theoretically consider both options simultaneously and some other combination, such as tendering first but establishing its own service if it didn't like the tender results.

Money for the City of Thompson to buy two buses is available from the Gas Tax Fund (GTF) contributions to municipalities, originally announced in the 2005 federal budget and since extended.

The Gas Tax Fund (GTF), now a component of the Building Canada infrastructure plan, provides funding in support of municipal capital infrastructure that contributes to cleaner air, cleaner water and reduced greenhouse gas emissions through public transit, drinking water, wastewater infrastructure, green energy, solid waste management and local roads and bridges.

Thompson has accumulated about $430,000 in Gas Tax Fund revenue eligibility for capital investments such as buses for public transit over the last several years, but is now in a "use it or start to lose it" position, as that $430,000 will start to decline in availability after next Jan. 1, Patrick said.

The money from the Gas Tax Fund can only be used for capital purchases, such as buses, and can't be applied to operating costs for a public transit service. The city is looking at purchasing two buses if it decides to go it on its own.

John Coval founded new Flyer in 1930 as the Western Auto and Truck Body Works Ltd. It changed its name in 1948 to Western Flyer Coach. In the 1960s the company further focused on the urban transit bus market. In 1971, the then-financially struggling Western Flyer was sold to the Manitoba Development Corporation, an agency of the Manitoba government, and renamed Flyer Industries Limited. On July 15, 1986, Jan den Oudsten, a descendant of the family who created the Dutch company Den Oudsten Bussen BV, purchased Flyer Industries from the Manitoba government, changing its name to New Flyer Industries Limited. Den Oudsten Bussen B.V was a bus manufacturer in the Netherlands.

New Flyer subsequently introduced North America's first low-floor bus in 1991. In 2001, the delivery of 6,300 low-floor buses represented close to half of the North American fleet, making New Flyer the dominant player in the transit bus manufacturing industry in North America.

In March 2002, New Flyer was acquired by KPS Special Situations Fund in New York.

In December 2003, Harvest Partners, Inc., a New York-based private equity firm, acquired New Flyer Industries Limited, from KPS Special Situations Fund. Lightyear Capital, a New York-based private equity firm, was also an investor in the transaction.