City unveils new fleet of seven buses

One of the new city buses was parked in front of City Hall Tuesday. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Tuesday afternoon, the City of Prince Albert had a surprise planned for the city’s media and mayor.

It was parked right on Memorial Square. And it still had that new car smell.

It was a new city bus, one of seven recently delivered to the city. Once they get the fare boxes and bike racks attached, and safety checks completed, the first buses will start hitting the road in late December.

They’ll be available for people to tour at the upcoming State of the City Address.

“Wow,” said Mayor Greg Dionne when he boarded the bus. “Wow, wow, wow.”

He would continue saying wow for another few minutes.

“This is a great day for the City of Prince Albert. As you know, just as we all walked on the bus and we all went wow, passengers that see this bus that come off what we had, this is a wow moment for the city here.”

The new buses have a low, flat floor and they ‘kneel’, or descend to reduce the step up for those who have trouble getting around. They’re also equipped with a ramp to facilitate scooters or wheelchairs. The front part of the bus has several fold-up seats that can be used for sitting or to park mobility devices, with large, square push buttons that can be used to signal next stops. The back of the bus is tiered with stairs and seats for ore able-bodied passengers to sit. There are no yellow chords on this bus, only buttons to push to indicate a stop request.

The new vehicles are also heated and air conditioned, and feature five security cameras recording footage to keep people safe, as well as a front-facing camera that could be used to review any potential collisions.

“The biggest thing is it’s going to really help us with our protocol of becoming an age-friendly community. Everyone’s gong to be able to access (this),” Dionne said.

Dionne also touted all the new, big windows that allow people to get a good view of the city as they drive by.

The seven new buses are 35-feet long and were funded in part by the federal government’s Public Transit Infrastructure Fund. That fund paid for $614,386 of the $3.34 million total cost, with the city covering the rest of the funding. It will be paid out over the lifetime of the buses to prevent the transit system from being hit by a large cost up front.

The buses can each accommodate up to 51 passengers, including 19 standing passengers when required. They have a lifespan of about 15 years.

In a press release, the mayor said the existing fleet was aging and in need of replacement.

“With this investment, Prince Albert will be served by a modern transit fleet that is fully-accessible and fuel-effifient,” the release quoted him as saying.

“I would like to thank the federal government for their contribution to the renewal of our transit system.”

The new buses represent the largest capital investment the city has made in its transit system since it began administering the service in 2004.

Annual ridership has been growing over the years, with 392,833 rides provided in 2017, a four per cent increase over 2016 and a 53 per cent increase since 2009.

Dionne thinks the new buses will further increase ridership.

“I can see growth in the transit area,” he said.

“These are impressive. The other ones were cold, they were hard to see out of … (they had) rough riding, no hear, no air conditioning — we’ve really brought our fleet into the modern world.”

Transportation manager Keri Sapsford said it took a year to receive the buses from the time they were ordered to the time they arrived, with additional time taken before the order was placed.

“It’s been awhile,” she said.

Right now, there are no intentions to get more buses. The city not has eight vehicles for six routes.

“That takes care of (it) right now,” Sapsford said.

“We’ll see what the future holds.”