Changes to the Elmira circulator bus have Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz concerned, particularly about the costs.
Started in 2018 by Kiwanis Transit as a six-month, $54,000 experiment supported by the township, the “Elmira bus” provides both in-town transit and a connection to Grand River Transit route 21 that connects Elmira to Waterloo and the rest of the GRT network.
The pilot project was subsequently taken on by the region and extended to this day. The 2022 budget of $118,700 is poised to blossom again.
The proposed changes will see the route run as a busPLUS route by the London-based company Voyago at a cost of $182,000 for one year, with the option of a nine-month extension. The bus will move from free service to having a regular transit fare for each rider. Shantz took issue with the cost increase.
“Our council and our local service board were thinking outside the box. We set it up above board as a pilot project. The region has responsibility for transit. What we’re getting here is putting the service back inside the box,” Shantz said at the May 25 regional council meeting.
“It will cost our taxpayers 33 per cent more because of the constraints put on the service by the [contract] and the riders will have to pay: GRT will no longer be free. If the region is truly interested in being innovative, we can’t put everything into one box,” she said.
While Neil Malcom, the region’s assistant director of transit services, acknowledged the increased cost, he said it is not a huge difference
“This is one route and a small piece of the total operating budget. We never want a variance from our budgeted amount, but because we didn’t know when the 2022 budget was created what the exact cost would be for the contractor to provide the service, it looks like we were a little bit under in our estimate. But it’s not an issue and we would adjust our 2023 budget to account for that accordingly,” Malcolm told the Observer in an interview.
According to the report given to council, the new contract will include a back-up bus provide by Voyago to “provide an improvement in reliability and service level to customers.” However, there have been no issues with the service provided by Kiwanis, Shantz said in an interview.
“We haven’t had any trouble with the Kiwanis Transit bus. The requirement for a new bus is for 19 seats. The one we have I think is 11 or 12. It’s a smaller bus but it’s adequate for what we need,” she said.
Lawrence Lambkin, general manager of Kiwanis Transit, said they would have like to continue providing the service however it they were unable to submit a response to the region’s request for proposal (RFP) because it would have gone outside their charitable designation.
“To maintain our charitable status, we have to operate within certain restrictions, and we cannot operate on a permanent basis. We cannot provide conventional transportation services,” he said.
Kiwanis Transit looked at options to continue providing the service, however.
“We have even explored forming another corporation. That would kind of be like a sister corporation that wouldn’t be restricted by a charitable status and would be able to provide the service, but things happen too fast, and there’s no way we could put that into play at the time,” Lambkin said.
The RFP was done appropriately and to regional standards, he noted.
“I think that they worked within the parameters that they have set up with and when it comes to releasing our request for proposals, and I think they did a good job,” he said.
Shantz was not alone in her concerns at regional council.
“We know with everything that’s come across the table in the last six months that we’re looking at probably significant tax increases. And then you add on to that an increase of 33 per cent for transit. If I was the mayor of Woolwich, I would be very concerned for my citizens just in the overall cost expectations over what’s going to happen in the budget,” said Coun. Sue Foxton at the May 25 meeting.
Regional council voted unanimously to delay the matter until the next council meeting on June 22. In the meantime Malcolm said that an update report is being prepared to respond to the concerns of council.