By a narrow margin, Lacombe City council has voted to move forward with the Regional Transit proposal that would see bus service between Lacombe and Red Deer through Blackfalds.
After much debate and discussion at its Aug. 26 meeting, council voted four to three in favour of formalizing an agreement between Blackfalds and Red Deer in order to make a regional transit service a reality.
Capital funding for the project is estimated at $900,000 and would be used to purchase two buses. City of Red Deer has obtained funds from the Green Transit Incentives Program (GreenTRIP) that would be used to cover $600,000 of this cost.
The remaining $300,000 would be split between Lacombe and Blackfalds at $150,000 each.
Red Deer will retain ownership of the buses and will provide all maintenance and staffing needs. Red Deer Transit will administer the regional service at an estimated $104 per hour.
Guy Lapointe, community and economic development manager for the City of Lacombe, added that these costs did not include funding necessary for further transit infrastructure such as benches, bus shelters or signage. Lapointe said that at start up, such infrastructure would amount to an estimated $7,000 for 10 stops within Lacombe at $700 each.
However, Lapointe also said there might be an opportunity to piggyback on agreement between Red Deer and an advertising agency to build stops at no cost in exchange for the exclusive rights to advertise on them.
Other additional costs to the program include a forecasted 59/41 cost share between Lacombe and Blackfalds for variable operating costs, additional fares required for connections within Red Deer and a $50,000 annual fleet replacement feet, split between Lacombe and Blackfalds at $25,000 each.
After seeing the costs that Lacombe would have to front in order to make such a service a reality, Councillor Reuben Konnik expressed his concern that the cost would too great.
“When this first came out I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt,” said Konnik.
“We always knew there was going to be an operating cost to this and until I saw those numbers I was going to reserve judgment on this. Having seen the numbers though, quite frankly, I shudder at these numbers a bit.”
Konnik added that he felt too few Lacombians would take advantage of the service to warrant that cost.
“I can’t support this, it’s too much money, it’s way too much money,” said Konnik.
Councillor Grant Creasey shared Konnik’s concerns.
“This is a very hard pill to swallow,” said Creasey. “I just don’t see this being at all viable in any way, shape or form.”
Creasey added he would rather see a transit service within the City of Lacombe before a regional transit partnership.
Councillor Outi Kite disagreed.
She said that she sees the proposed agreement as a way for youth to obtain employment in Red Deer, make it easier for seniors to do shopping and for student to commute.
“I only see positives,” said Kite.
Councillor Wayne Rempel agreed.
“I think this is something that people are looking for,” said Rempel.
He added that he believed the bus service would see more and more use as more people realized the advantages of it.
Councillor Ian Foster agreed that the costs are great, but also said he has no problem supporting the project if the benefits are worth it.
“I am not against the investment if it makes sense,” said Foster. He added that he was not sure if that investment was justified with Lacombe’s current population. He also said he thought Blackfalds would be getting much more benefit out of the agreement than Lacombe.
Chief Administrative Officer Norma MacQuarrie commented that, if this is a service Lacombe wants to provide for its citizens, the only way to provide it is to partner with other communities in the region.
“I don’t believe Lacombe is of a size to accomplish this independently,” said MacQuarrie. “But regionally there is the opportunity to spread this across two municipalities.”
Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie stated his staunch support of the regional transit proposal and seemed disappointed that there was not more support from the other members of council.
“I have had nothing, nothing but pressure from a lot of different groups of people to see this happen,” said Christie.
He said administration had looked into every other option in regard to a regional transit service, that it is clearly too expensive for Lacombe to accomplish on its own and that Lacombe may see some benefits from citizens of Red Deer and Blackfalds coming to Lacombe as well.
When it came to the vote, Creasey asked that it be recorded.
That vote passed four to three, with Christie and Councillor Peter Bouwsema, Kite and Rempel voting for and Creasey, Konnik and Foster voting against.
On the other hand, Blackfalds had much less debate on the same proposal when it came to their regular council meeting on Aug. 27. Those few councillors who did speak on the proposal showed nothing but support for it and the motion to formalize the agreement was carried unanimously.
In a joint press release from the City of Lacombe and Town of Blackfalds, Blackfalds Mayor Melodie Stol said that this service provides opportunities for commuters, students and seniors. She added she is very happy to see this longterm desire come to realization.
“Blackfalds Town council is very excited about this new service,” said Stol. “Regional transit has been discussed for over six years – it’s very satisfying to see this dream come to fruition.”
Christie agreed and praised all of the partners involved for excellent regional cooperation.
“This partnership is a significant achievement and a great example of regional collaboration,” said Christie.
Now that the partnership has been formalized, service is expected to commence in September 2014.