Above: Morinville Seniors Rendez-Vous Club, President Mike Dubas and Vice-president Gary Pool speak to Council on the importance of the Community Bus. – Lucie Roy Photo
by Colin Smith
The wheels of the Morinville Community Bus may go round and round once more.
At its regular meeting, Tuesday town council voted against disposing of the bus, rejecting a cost-cutting recommendation from the administration.
That would have put an end to 32 years of bus service in one form or another in Morinville, although the Community Bus has not been used since March 2020 due to the impact of Covid restrictions.
The decision followed a public presentation earlier in the meeting by representatives of the Morinville Seniors Rendez-Vous Club, President Mike Dubas and Vice-president Gary Pool, who emphasized the value of the bus for club excursions, and the willingness of its members to work with the town and other groups on programming and scheduling.
An administration report presented results from direction by council to explore viable Community Bus operating models. Council had rejected a proposal to dispose of the bus that was part of 2022 budget deliberations.
Disposing of the bus was one of four options put before council. The others were the town providing a bookable bus service, granting the bus to a community group or disposing of the bus and offering excursion trips with an alternate provider.
Extensive discussion by council indicated members’ inclination to maintain Community Bus service in some form, with a pilot project to be possibly developed on the basis of further information to be provided by administration.
Councillor Jan Anheliger put forward a motion “That council direct administration to retain the Community Bus and bring forward options to pilot charter bus services for consideration at a future charter committee of the whole.”
“I think it’s important that we keep the bus still at this point,” Anheliger said. “But I don’t want to lose sight of providing some reasonable options for our residents.”
Previously she had expressed a preference for the pilot project service to be provided by outside charter operators, while other council members wanted it to be run by the town, resulting in some uncertainty about the actual intent of the motion.
In the end, it passed on a split vote, with Mayor Simon Boersma, Anheliger, and Councillors Rebecca Balanko, Stephen Dafoe and Maurice St. Denis in favour. Opposed were Deputy Mayor Ray White and Councillor Scott Richardson.
Disposal of the bus would result in estimated budgetary savings of about $42,000 in operating costs and annualized capital costs. Proceeds of its sale would go into the town’s Fleet Reserve fund.
The recommendation to end Morinville bus service was informed by the results of the recent Budget 2023 public engagement survey in which roughly 150 people participated.
Among the respondents to questions about the service, 94% said they had not ridden the bus, the same number said they had not rented or been part of an organization that rented the bus, and 91% per cent said they had no interest in renting it.
The bus was rated as very or somewhat unimportant by 59% of the respondents, 38% did not want a cost to implement a bus service, and 51% supported a service funded by user fees but not by a higher tax rate. Booking a spot for a program or excursion would not be considered by 81% of respondents.
When the Community Bus was introduced in 1990, it provided services only to seniors 55-plus and people with disabilities.
It then expanded to serving all population groups, with town staff administering services for shopping trips, summer camp transportation, park ‘n’ ride, and rentals to community groups and individuals for events, including weddings.
The bus has been used for Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) youth and senior programs, Community Services shopping trips to St. Albert and Edmonton and the Rotary Club for its teen mentoring program.
Some of these services have been eligible for FCSS grant funds but are no longer.
The administration report notes that disposal of the bus would result in members of the community having to arrange for their own transportation and activities.
It acknowledges that not all members may have the means to do this, and so more demands might be placed on community members to provide the service.