Public transit service is moving forward after council passed a motion to engage PWTransit Canada during its July 18 regular council meeting.
The service will start in September and is expected to serve both the town and the immediate surrounding national park sites such as Lake Annette.
Central to the deal is a partnership with the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) for a dedicated school bus route. The division will provide its own funding of $115,000 to the municipality, which will help to offset the full $514,000 cost of annual transit service.
The decision came after a bit of democratic back and forth as Coun. Rico Damota voiced his concerns about the decision process.
Public transportation was a prolonged topic of discussion during the July 11 committee of the whole meeting that was led by Deputy Mayor Kelleher-Empey. It was during that meeting that council put forth a motion directing administration to identify contract provisions that council sought to revise.
“We directed administration to complete a contract with PWTransit,” Damota said. “I don’t think that within our existing procedure bylaw that we were on side with that.”
“Ultimately, committee of the whole recommends when something is ready for a decision by council,” reads the municipality’s website that provides an overview of the mayor and council.
A regular council meeting, the page continues, is when “Councillors make decisions on topics and requests that were already discussed in a committee of a whole meeting.”
In the end, Coun. Scott Wilson made a motion that council adopt the motion that Mayor Richard Ireland made at the committee of the whole meeting.
“Unusual, I do find that it is in order,” Ireland said to reaffirm the process, inviting one last debate.
This gave Damota his last words on the subject.
“I’m still opposed to it for all the reasons that I spoke to last week. I think that we should have suspended this whole conversation based on the fact that we admitted that there was a flaw in the process to begin with. We were going forward with amending our advertising for requests for proposals. I still feel that the process was flawed, and we wouldn’t be here today if we collectively realized that.”
“I still feel that we’re not in a good decision to go forward,” he added.
Ireland agreed that process is important, but he didn’t characterize this issue as a flaw in the process.
“We will continue to improve, but we cannot keep backing up because we see that we could have done something better,” he said.
“The motion is that council adopt that motion previously passed by committee.”
The motion carried on a teeter-totter 4-3 scale with Councillors Helen Kelleher-Empey and Ralph Melnyk joining Damota’s dissent on the subject.
The bulk of the discussion during the July 11 committee of the whole meeting focused on issues related to the timing of when the service should start to maximize its early benefits as well as the cost to the taxpayer.
CAO Bill Given advised council at that meeting that there would always be some cost borne by the tax base.
“There is no public transit system that I’m aware of that operates at a profit,” Given said.
“We can be clear and transparent about that, because the facts show it everywhere. Municipal transit systems operate at a loss or at a subsidy, depending on how you want to look at it. I think when we position it as a subsidy, it’s a recognition that there are broad community benefits.”
Public transportation has been a long time in the making, after first arriving in the 2011 Jasper Community Sustainability Plan with one subsequent stop at the 2018 Transportation Master Plan.
Getting the school division in on the action helped to seal the deal. Council was advised by the GYPSD that approximately 100 students will be eligible for busing in the 2023/24 school year, including approximately 36 students residing at Jasper Park Lodge.
“We are setting up the system concept so it directly supports the school board’s needs,” Given said.
Proposed bus schedules and stops are still in the draft stage.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jul 19, 2023