City opts for trial period with new transit AVL system

A newly purchased city bus sits on display in Memorial Square in this file photo taken in January 2018. -- Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

Prince Albert city council has put the brakes on a proposed five-year Transit Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) System contract in favour of a one-year trial run.

The system is designed to provide passengers with more accurate and up-to-date information on when their bus will arrive, and while most city councillors expressed tentative support, they also wanted to see it in action before committing to a five-year contract.

“This is a long-term commitment (and) a high dollar commitment,” Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski said during the April 29 council meeting. “If the option is there … for a trial period, I’d love to give it a try and then have this conversation again.”

“I’m not prepared to go for a five-year deal without seeing it in our buses and seeing how it can operate,” Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards added. “I really liked reading the report on the benefits and I think it’s going to be good, but if you can do a trail and you can see what we need for our city, I think that’s where we need to go.”

Administration recommended that council skip the trial period and go straight to the five-year contract after observing the system in action in Regina. City transportation manager Keri Sapsford told council they were satisfied with what they saw.

“They’re actually a more complex system than we are,” Sapsford said when asked about comparisons with Saskatchewan’s capital. “It’s a lot easier to implement for our (system) than it would be for Regina.”

The city would have paid CRL Engineering nearly $150,000, spread over five years, had council approved the deal. City manager Jim Toye said that’s a good deal for the city, but said they’ll still have to talk with CRL to determine how that deal would work with a trial period.

The issue will have to come back before city council for final approval.

The AVL system would allow riders to receive up-to-date information about whether buses are running late, early or on-time via text message, online website or public monitors. In a report included in the most recent council agenda package, Sapsford wrote that the system would help increase ridership by made the bus service more cost-efficient, especially in the winter.

While all councillors like the new system, not everyone was keen to spend more money on the city’s buses. Some, like Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick, said the city should focus on expanding their bus service to all areas of the city before anything else, especially since all Prince Albert taxpayers subsidize the service.

“I am a little hesitant about spending more money on our buses, however, I like the idea of what we’re talking about: giving people information when we’re running late and so on,” he said during the meeting.

“I know we’re spending $149,000, and that’s what we said it would cost to run another bus through two entire neighbourhoods of the city, and so maybe we should look at expanding service to people who are paying for a service they are not receiving.”