Council approved a resolution Feb. 4 to finalize and enter into an agreement with Maple Bus Lines to provide city transit services until June 30.
“The fact that we’ve been out of transit with our coldest winter that we’ve had in a long time … we’ve heard the citizens, we hear the students, we hear everybody saying we need it,” said Mayor Colleen Smook. “But we’re also hearing, maybe not quite as vocal a group, we’re hearing those that are worried about the impact of our taxes, the impact of buses riding around empty. Many of these people use transit, but they’re still concerned at what cost are they going to support it. This contract for the next five months is giving us time to start a new ad hoc committee. We are going to have a long road. So anybody that has suggestions on the future of transit in Thompson, please make sure you are heard over the next few months.”
Other councillors also emphasized that this is a stop-gap rather than a permanent solution.
“I’d like to see a long-term contract in place, but as a new council this was dumped in our lap, so we got to deal with it, we’ve got to deal with it now because … it’s needed,” said Coun. Earl Colbourne. “I think what we’re going to do here is not the solution but it paves the way to getting a good solution and a good transit system for Thompson.”
“This, in my mind, is a monkey wrench that wasn’t expected with respect to budgeting,” said Coun. Jeff Fountain. “I support this motion basically because I will be involved in the ad-hoc committee to ensure that busing changes and that next year we’re not back here with the same issues, with the same costs to the city and I do want to point out that there’s been a lot of conversations about green busing. Empty buses are not a green thing. We need the right sized buses and we need to make sure this transit system serves in a way that’s sustainable and long-lasting.”
“This is a very short contract,” said Coun. Judy Kolada. “It’s only until June 30 and I think that any city of our size has to have public transit, especially when we’re this far north and with our climate. So I have to support it. It gives us some time to try and obtain services cheaper or raise fees. We can’t continue with this much cost for public transit, but I think it’s very necessary and one of our options will have to be to raise the fees for our ridership.”
Coun. Duncan Wong, who abstained, was the only councillor who didn’t support the resolution.
“I’m not against providing transit service for the City of Thompson,” Wong said. “I’m concerned what will this be costing the taxpayer for the short-term agreement? When I make my decision, it is based on fact, not based on emotion and due to all of my reasons I’d like to abstain.”
Maple was one of two companies, along with Thompson Bus, to respond to a request for proposals issued by the city on Oct. 10, three weeks before Greyhound Canada, which had provided buses, drivers and maintenance services for Thompson transit, shut down their Western Canada operations last Oct. 31. There has not been transit service in the city since Nov. 1, though Maple has provided morning and afternoon buses for students through an agreement with the School District of Mystery Lake.
A memo to mayor and council from city manager Anthony McInnis – dated Feb. 2 but posted on the city’s website Feb. 1 – said that the two proposals were scored based on the criteria of qualifications, schedule, project cost and cost breakdown and that Maple Bus Lines was identified as the lead proponent, scoring 92.6 out of 100 points. The city’s preliminary budget for transit services in 2019 is $356,109.
“Administration recommends Council authorize Administration to finalize and enter into agreement with Maple Grove Equine Ranch Ltd. (O/A Maple Bus Lines) based on their Proposal submitted in response to RFP # 13218,” said McInnis’s memo.
The turnaround time between the request for proposals being issued in October and the date they were due was only seven days.
Greyhound Canada informed the city July 18 that it would no longer be providing transit services in Thompson effective Oct. 31.
Under the terms of that service contract, Greyhound provided bus drivers, storage facilities and maintenance on the two city-owned buses for a monthly fee, and provided replacement buses when the city’s were not usable at a cost of $800 per bus per day.
In 2017, the city paid Greyhound $424,192.12 for its services and collected $95,842.20 in bus fares from roughly 53,000 riders, mostly during the school year. That means the cost to the city of operating the transit system that year was approximately $328,000, higher than during a five-year agreement from 2011 through 2015, when the average annual cost was about $273,000.
- with files from Kyle Darbyson