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Council awards $3.2 million contract for transit fleet facility

Council also authorized administration to issue a request for proposals for the supply of three battery electric buses and associated charging infrastructure.
Jasper Transit makes a stop at Whistlers Campground during its launch day on Sept. 5, 2023. | Peter Shokeir / Jasper Fitzhugh

Jasper Municipal Council awarded Johnston Builders a $3,204,123 contract for building a transit fleet facility during its Tuesday meeting.

The motion narrowly passed 4-3, with Mayor Richard Ireland and councillors Wendy Hall, Kathleen Waxer and Scott Wilson voting in favour; councillors Rico Damota, Helen Kelleher-Empey and Ralph Melnyk voted against it.

“I appreciate that it is significant, the concerns of several councillors, obviously, but my read is that this council is committed to transit,” said Mayor Ireland during the meeting.

“Question is, are we committed to owning our fleet, whether it is battery electric buses or something else? So, I think we can commit to the building without knowing what we're going to put in it.”

Launching last fall, Jasper Transit is currently operated by a contractor that provides the bus fleet, fleet storage and driving.

Administration stated there would be $2,564,298 in savings over the 2026 to 2040 period for transitioning to an ownership model, which was still greater than the $2,125,096 cost of transitioning to an electric bus fleet.

This results in a net financial benefit of $474,245.

A $5-million federal grant will help the municipality move forward building the facility and procuring the buses, provided that the buses are zero-emission.

The municipality received six proposals for the facility, with administration determining that Johnston Builders was the best option.

The design for the facility is a simple and functional, pre-engineered steel frame building.

The total projected cost is $3,499,373, which includes $3,204,123 for the base contract and an additional $295,250 as a contingency and cash allowance.

Eighty per cent of the funding, or $2,799,498, will be sourced from the federal grant, and the remainder will come from municipal borrowing.

Johnston Builders would begin construction in the fall and finish over the winter when the cost of accommodation in the community is lower.

“That led to them being able to have a very preferable price,” said CAO Bill Given.

“The next highest evaluated submission was about $900,000 more than Johnston Builders.”

The contract is structured so the municipality is only committing to the design phase and has the option of backing out of the construction phase.

However, Given said this wouldn’t buy much time since the fabrication of the pre-engineered steel structure needed to begin at the end of July.

If the decision is not confirmed, the municipality would be bumped to the back of the queue to fit into the fabricator’s next available slot, which would be a delay of 12 to 16 weeks.

“So, it is a material delay and would bump the rest of the schedule and Johnston's overall pricing, obviously, because you would start to bump into the summer construction season and run into some difficulty with the subtrades,” Given said.

Coun. Wilson moved to award the contract, noting that he was in support of the project and the electrification of Jasper’s bus fleet, even though council was approving a facility before acquiring the actual buses.

“I'm just a little weary of putting the cart before the horse, but the risk is minimal, I feel, and I support the project as a whole, so that's the reason I have that much support.”

Coun. Waxer said she would vote in favour since she thought moving forward was in the best interests of the community now and 10 years beyond.

“Jasper, like every other Canadian community, faces an ambitious and important goal to reduce vehicle travel and increase the share of trips made by public transportation and transit because addressing climate change is a global, collective effort. We all have a part to play.”

She explained further how Jasper would likely be facing more vehicle congestion as tourism increases, and the town’s limited space needed to be devoted to housing rather than parking spaces.

Transit also benefits many groups such as seniors, seasonal workers and those living with disabilities.

Coun. Damota acknowledged the benefits of transit but highlighted how many residents thought council was spending too much.

“I just don’t think it’s a sellable plan to the community, I don’t think the sentiment is out there right now to support these immense decisions right now and I’m feeling this isn't a really good [time] for it at this moment.”

Coun. Kelleher-Empey said she had never seen the community more upset in her 11 years as an elected official than right now and that council was moving too quickly on this issue.

Coun. Hall echoed some of Waxer’s reasons for supporting the motion, adding how there was significant government support and that this was a global initiative.

Coun. Melnyk spoke against the motion, saying he wanted to determine the cost of the electric buses before moving forward with the facility.

Despite the opposition, the motion was carried 4-3.

Electric bus procurement

Council also authorized administration to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for the supply of three battery electric buses and associated charging infrastructure.

Coun. Damota asked why the municipality was committing to battery electric buses, noting there were other types of zero-emission vehicles such hydrogen fuel cell buses.

Given replied that there were no hydrogen filling stations in the vicinity, and battery electric busses were a more mature technology.

He clarified that the battery electric buses would have a diesel component as the internal climate control system can be a significant draw on battery power.

“Although the municipality is specifically seeking battery electric buses in this RFP … that does not prevent the municipality from choosing in the future to have other types of propulsion systems,” Given later added.

Damota said he didn’t support the motion since he didn’t want to limit the municipality’s options to just battery electric buses.

Coun. Hall was among the councillors to support the proposal.

“It's not just locking us into this, but the grant for this is going to cover 80 per cent of this project,” Hall said.

“And this motion isn't to vote on [the buses]. This motion is to go out for information on how much does this cost, so this is an easy one to support this. We're not really doing it yet.”

The motion passed 6-1 with only Damota voting against it.

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