City of Prince Albert launches lawsuit over bus failure

The City of Prince Albert seeks at least $6-million plus damages in a lawsuit launched against the company that delivered seven buses to the City’s transit fleet in 2018.

Mayor Greg Dionne announced on Tuesday the City’s intent to sue Vicinity Motor Corp. and Grande West Transport Ltd. Dionne said they want to recover the amount paid for the new buses, receive compensation for additional replacement and repair costs, and be reimbursed for temporary replacement bus costs. The City also seeks compensation for the disruption caused to City residents who rely on bus transportation for their daily lives.

“No repair plan has yet been presented that shows a path for when and how the entire fleet can be put back into operation,” Dionne told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday. “These buses were purchased in good faith from a reputable company. We did not get what we paid for.”

Dionne said the City has kept track of lost revenue caused by the disruptions. He described the City’s lawsuit at “intense” and said it was sad to get to this point.

 “They had personally made promises to myself earlier in the year that we would have all the replacement buses,” Dionne said. “They did send us three, and they were supposed to send us the other three … then they notified me that they ran out of vehicles to keep their obligations, so at that time, we looked at other (transit) alternatives.”

Dionne said the City has already filed a statement of claim. He said the City would ask the court to speed up the process to avoid being tied up in court for years. Dionne said the suit was filed in Prince Albert.

Public Works Director Wes Hicks said the issue started when cracks were discovered near the rear axles in one bus. Further inspection showed similar cracks in all other buses, forcing the City to remove them from the road in April 2021 to keep the frame from collapsing.

The City filed a warranty claim, and expected a repair schedule by December, along with replacement buses to keep the fleet moving. Three of those replacement buses arrived in February, but the City says two suffered operational problems.

“I think we were all fairly surprised, because we had purchased brand new buses in 2017, they arrived in January of 2018, and were only on the road for three years when this was discovered,” Hicks said. “That would be unreasonable for (a personal) vehicle. It’s certainly unreasonable for a utility vehicle like a bus.”

Hicks said they’ve done everything they can to keep buses on the road, but it’s been almost impossible to purchase or lease new vehicles in North America. That forced the City to rely on replacement buses from Vicinity, which Hicks said weren’t reliable.

“One was quite reliable and stayed on the road a lot, but the other two were not,” he said. “They were in the shop as much as they were on the road.”

The Daily Herald reached out to Vicinity Motor Corp. in an email for a response to the City’s claims. Vicinity did not reply to the email by press time.

The City plans to rely on six buses provided by First Bus Canada to make up the difference. All six buses recently arrived from the southern U.S., with three expected to be on the road by June. The rest will follow shortly after.

Both Hicks and Dionne apologized to City transit users for the unreliable bus service.

“It’s been frustrating,” Dionne said. “It’s not only been frustrating for my office, but of course for Wes’ office of public works.

“(The riders) have been very courteous. Today I was on the phone, probably, with seven of them, giving them updates. They were very pleased about what was going to happen at the press conference today, and they understand our situation.”

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