New transit numbers bother councillor
Department lowers its cost-recovery goals
By: Peter Boer
| Posted: Saturday, Feb 09, 2013 06:00 am
Changing how much of its costs St. Albert Transit is expected to recover isn’t sitting well with one St. Albert city councillor.
Coun. Malcolm Parker said he’s concerned transit wants to change its target annual recovery from 40 to 60 per cent of costs to 35 to 40 per cent of costs, as outlined in the department’s long-term plan. Council approved the plan Monday night.
“I’m a little dismayed they are talking about a cost-recovery of 35 to 40 per cent,” Parker said.
Parker successfully inserted a line into the plan before it was passed, saying transit will continue looking for cost-efficiencies. Parker says he recognizes transit is a heavily subsidized service, but said the department needs to keep an eye on its expenses.
“(The motion), to me, says to the transit people that as they are developing the plan, they must be looking at ways to be more cost-efficient,” Parker said.
Transit has, in the last three years, come close to recouping 40 per cent of its costs, but hasn’t quite made it, usually coming in around 37 or 38 per cent. Transit director Bob McDonald said that’s a function of higher costs, such as growing fuel costs, while ridership, the department’s key source of revenue, has grown but not significantly. The city could charge higher fares, but McDonald said that would lead to fewer riders.
“You get to a point where if you charge too much, people aren’t going to use it. If you charge too little, you won’t have enough revenue. We’re trying to find a spot in the middle for that,” McDonald said.
Transit cost-recovery at municipalities in Alberta of similar size has also been trending downwards. Statistics referenced in the long-term plan show St. Albert actually led the pack in 2010 at 39 per cent, while Strathcona County came in at 34 per cent, Red Deer at 33 per cent, Lethbridge at 32 per cent and Grande Prairie at 24 per cent.
Mayor Nolan Crouse said the percentages of other communities show St. Albert Transit’s request is in keeping with current trends.
“I think the policy has to reflect reality,” Crouse said. “You look at (those other municipalities), they start to tell you what the recovery really is.”
McDonald said city growth also adds to the departments costs. As the city gets larger geographically, buses have to travel further.
“We end up having to run buses further out to get just a little more of the density of people, but that’s a whole other bus and driver and hours to do that, so what we’re hoping is to see the higher increases in development keep costs down,” McDonald said.
But Parker wants transit to focus on recovering as much money as it can, even if that means cutting back on services. He pointed to a motion passed during budget discussions last year that granted a department request to replace Saturday Dial-A-Bus service with fixed route service, but only by using existing resources.
“Transit is a fairly significant part of the city’s operation budget,” Parker said. “I know there’s a need to provide it regardless of how well it’s used, but it’s a very costly exercise.”