“This (city-owned transit garage) should improve the competitiveness of the bids we get, along with improving service since we will be able to store all buses indoors.” – Ward 4 Coun. Barry Ward
by John Devine
City Scene Barrie
Although it may sound like a significant change in the way transit services are delivered in Barrie, the just-approved service model is not a radical departure from how things are currently done, according to Ward 4 Coun. Barry Ward.
“Right now, the buses belong to the City but we contract out the operation of our service to private enterprise.”
On Monday night, council approved a plan, outlined in a staff report, to engage the private sector in renovating an existing transit facility at 133 Welham Road, and operating the transit system under the conditions of a long-term contract – possibly 10 or 20 years, depending on final deliberations.
The main difference between the new model and the current one is one of ownership of the transit garage. Under the new model the City will own the Welham Road garage. The current transit garage on Brock Street is owned by First Canada, which also runs the transit service for the City. Having a facility under City ownership will strengthen the bidding process by making it more competitive, suggests Ward.
“The winning company has been expected to provide its own storage facility. This has limited the number of bidders; basically, we’ve had the same company for decades. In the future, we will have our own storage facility, which the winning bidder will operate along with the transit service. We’ll still own the buses and we’ll then own the storage facility as well.
“This should improve the competitiveness of the bids we get, along with improving service since we will be able to store all buses indoors. For example, currently, we have a problem with freezing of the bus-lift mechanism for the disabled when the buses are left outside overnight.”
Regardless of which direction the City takes on transit service, a new garage would be needed, says Mayor Jeff Lehman. A new garage will improve the service life of the fleet, because they can be stored inside, will reduce the system’s environmental footprint by reducing the need for the buses to idle while ‘warming’ up, and save the City about $80,000 a year in idling costs.
The City is also using the change to introduce performance standards, says Ward.
Council approved spending of up to $20.2 million for the Welham Road garage, consisting of $2.2 million in development charges, $4.2 million from a P3 (public/private partnership) Canada Grant, and $13.8 million in debt financing. The winning bidder will develop the facility using City funds, but the garage will remain publicly owned.
A number of key objectives were developed to ensure “maximum value for money for the City of Barrie.” They are:
• Risk sharing to reduce operation risks
• Competitive bidding process to get the best value for city taxpayers
• Service expansion to meet increased needs over the years
• Protection of assets to reduce wear and extend service life
• Innovation in funding to source funds and reduce the need to service by debt
• Clear financial and non-financial targets to improve delivery of services through a performance-based contract
• Reduced environmental footprint, basically to reduce emissions
The funds from the P3 Canada Fund Program will reduce the amount of money the City will need to borrow, thereby reducing annual operating debt-servicing charges by $500,000, and $900,000 in interest over the entire project, according to the report. It’s expected the funds will be approved in June.
A summary of the staff report describes the P3 model as an “enabler” in the evolution of Barrie transit services.
“In summary, it contributes to council’s stated strategies for managing growth, protecting the environment, strengthening Barrie’s financial conditions, and improving customer service.”
The needs assessment for a new garage dates back to 2005 when a study, known as the Barrie Transit Facility Study, determined that a new, City-owned garage was needed. In 2009 another report, this one called the Barrie Transit Strategic Operating Study, recommended service standards, which the City has yet to adopt. This study also recommended a new garage.
The staff report states that P3 Canada has expressed an interest in the project – the agency provides up to 25 per cent of eligible project costs.
The transit system currently carries 2.6 million passengers a year. Barrie Transit operates 40 conventional buses and 13 specialized (BACTS) vehicles, with a replacement value of $20.5 million.
The downtown Transit Terminal, 25,000 square feet, is valued at $8.2 million. The Welham Road property, which has a vacant 90,000-square-feet building (the future garage) on 11 acres, was purchased by the City for $5.3 million.
It’s estimated that to meet service demands, the transit system will need to expand to 80 vehicles, from the current 53, over the next 15 years, and possibly to 120 by 2035.