City of Lacombe Council recently debated a Councillor motion by Councillor Chris Ross that would have directed City administration to provide exit strategies from the BOLT transportation system, which ferries citizens between Lacombe, Blackfalds and Red Deer.
The motion came after Council was presented with an option by administration, on the suggestion of the BOLT Committee, to move the BOLT system to a strictly commuter, four trips per day model which focused on a typical nine to five work day and decreased both trips and travel time from the existing model. That motion was taken as information only.
After a spirited debate about the project which costs the City roughly $225,000 per year, Council voted against the motion with Mayor Grant Creasey, Councillor Reuben Konnik and Councillor Chris Ross voting for the motion and Councillors Thalia Hibbs, Jonathan Jacobson, Cora Hoekstra and Don Gullekson voting against.
Hibbs said the motion was premature due to a lack of information and said many citizens who use the service reached out to her in support of BOLT.
“When it was brought to us in the Spring and since I let people know this was coming up tonight — a lot of people reached out to me and told me some very personal stories,” she said. “I really felt I had to go to bat for them because they need to have a voice here.”
The BOLT Committee’s mandate is to both increase ridership and find cost efficiency in the system — issues that are difficult to achieve and the commuter model presented wouldn’t necessarily achieve due to the decreased times and the proposed necessary exit from a deal struck with Burman University in 2018.
Hibbs hopes the defeated motion will encourage the committee to continue their mandate.
“I hope the Committee takes this as a sign that there isn’t support for axing the service,” she said. “We do want them to carry out the mandate we thought we gave them, which is to increase ridership and make it a little more financially viable.
“In regards to how they will do that — I don’t want to dictate to them but it really seems like more information is needed.”
Creasey said he voted to explore exit strategies because the BOLT system is problematic and isn’t a viable venture.
“I wanted to see what the possible alternatives were. I wanted to see the consequences of all those options. A vote for it did not mean putting an end to it. We want to see what the consequences were,” he said.
Creasey expects this issue will come up again and hopes to hear alternatives from the Committee which could improve the service. He added that it would have been more intelligent for the Council that approved BOLT initially to have researched intermunicipal transportation before intramunicipal — however provincial grants at the time were available only for intramunicipal.
“Quite frankly, the uptake has not been great from the public. It is very unfortunate but that is the reality and that is where we are at. As you can tell from the comments made tonight, we are are struggling with the reality of it,” he said.
Hibbs added it is now on the Committee to carry on with their mandate now that the motion has been defeated.
“Hopefully when we come back to talk about this in awhile, we will have more information and we can make a really informed decision,” she said.