The Municipality of Jasper may soon enhance its transit fleet with EV buses. | Scott Hayes / Jasper FitzhughScott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Municipality of Jasper’s potential procurement of EV buses is facing a rising hurdle in the form of an online petition.

The petition, started by 33-year resident Debbie Taylor, surpassed 550 electronic signatures as of Monday.

“I am supportive of the development of the Jasper Transit service and the benefits that it offers our community, however, as a resident… I am deeply concerned about the current proposed rate of municipal spending on Electric Vehicle (EV) buses and the infrastructure required to house and operate them,” reads part of Taylor’s position statement. 

The statement notes that the increasing costs to fund these purchases and development were not sustainable in the long term and could leave taxpayers burdened for years to come.

“Jasper is a total of four kilometers long. It does not need to buy [buses] especially when it’s mainly for tourists. Our tax dollars are for locals not to supply tourists. If Parks Canada wants a tour bus, hire one of the tour companies,” Taylor said in a phone interview with the Fitzhugh.

Taylor’s objection includes her belief that the municipality has taken on too many recent capital projects that have “spiraled out of control, leaving the community and its residents in a financial precarious position.”

The petition aims to get the municipality to reconsider the decision to move forward with EV buses along with the development of infrastructure until the results have come in from the Alberta Municipality Constellation project.

Spearheaded by the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium along with FortisAlberta, the study seeks to inform the procurement and deployment of zero-emission buses in nine communities across Alberta, Jasper not included.

Bill Given, the municipality’s chief administrative officer (CAO), argued that the study is not about if the nine municipalities should get zero-emission buses but rather how they should go about it.

He added that the study on the transition to EV doesn’t truly reflect the situation that Jasper is in anyway. Jasper in a “green field” position, meaning it is only looking to build from the ground up. 

“We’re not dealing with any of those transition costs that the transit operators are dealing with,” he said.

The municipality has been approved for a $5-million federal grant to support the procurement of up to three zero-emission transit buses and the construction of a facility to house the buses.

The request for proposals for the estimated $3.6-million transit facility construction will close on May 10. Afterward, administration will return to council with the responses, and Given will have more detail on the specs for the EV buses.

“We’ll be asking council at that time to (A) confirm whether or not they want to ultimately go ahead with the construction of the facility, and (B) whether the spec of the buses that we’re looking for is correct,” he said. 

Those two decisions are interrelated, so administration intends to bring its recommendation on awarding the facility construction contract to council at the same time as the specifics on the EV buses.

“If council chose not to go forward with e-buses (which was an integral part of our federal grant) then we could choose to cancel the construction of the facility as well. If we chose not to have the electric buses, then the municipality would have to go back to the federal government, and we would no longer qualify for that grant.”

The grant would cover 80 per cent of the cost of the buses and the facility, along with the associated charging infrastructure. That means that the financial burden sitting on the municipality’s shoulders would be very low, Given said, emphasizing that council hasn’t approved the actual initiation of any construction or any procurement yet. 

He said the municipality is concerned that there might be public speculation on this issue that doesn’t have a full understanding of the facts.

To that end, he was present for the municipality’s transit open house last Thursday. The informational displays offered details such as how none of citizens’ current property taxes go to public transportation. Jasper Transit’s operating budget expense for 2024 is $665,000, an amount that is covered through a combination of contributions from Parks Canada, school boards, paid parking and bus fares.

Switching from renting the buses (as it does presently) to owning the EV bus fleet would cost the municipality $1.385 million including interest. A proposed loan of $726,000 would be paid off over five years, and each annual payment would be $166,204 for a total of $831,020. The rest of the $1.385 million will be funded from reserves.

The move to owning transit equipment is a strategic decision rooted in the 2023 Transit Strategy and Action Plan. That and the initial federal grant submission received letters of support from both Tourism Jasper and the Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce. 

On April 5, however, the chamber issued an email newsletter that contained a letter to the municipality stating that it considers the matter to involve a “multi-decade financial and operational commitment with a vague and incomplete business plan. The potential costs associated with the operations and infrastructure of this project could very quickly dwarf the grant money and leave our community with an additional, ongoing tax burden.”

As for the petition, Given said that Taylor did not provide any names of those who signed it. Taylor said this was because people were afraid of the potential repercussions such as losing their jobs.

Given noted that the Alberta government has specific requirements around petitions and what makes them valid.

Regardless, it did have validity in terms of a statement of public opinion as far as he was concerned.

“It’s something that council and administration can clearly understand. There are people that have significant and strong concerns about transit, generally. It potentially has some political validity, even though it may not have that specific and bureaucratic legislative validity. Anytime the public is concerned about municipal operations, we certainly take that into account.”

That might not sit well with Taylor. After attending the open house, she was unimpressed about her conversation with the CAO.

“When you mentioned anything about overspending, he dismisses it,” she said.

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 24, 2024 at 10:24

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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