A transit rider is bringing his concerns with the bus service in the city forward.
© Herald photo by Jodi Schellenberg
Patrick Fairbairn holds his petition, which outlines areas of concern for transit users in Prince Albert. Fairbairn would like to see many improvements on the buses, including sufficient heat and extended hours of operation.
Patrick Fairbairn, a legally blind gentleman who has lived in Prince Albert for three years, not only wrote a letter outlining his concerns to Coun. Charlene Miller but is also starting a petition.
“About 17 months ago I gave a presentation at City Hall and nothing happened,” Fairbairn said. “This letter follows the first letter and I am also trying to get a formal petition going here.”
Fairbairn said all of the buses have mechanical problems except the newest bus in the city.
“Everything else rattles, falling apart, the shocks are shot and (more),” Fairbairn said.
He is upset with the way transit users in the city are being treated and would like to see conditions improved.
“The city is not doing a damn thing that I am aware of and I’m a little bit fed up with it,” Fairbairn said. “I have done all I can do so now I am doing (a petition). If this doesn’t work, I am going to do a formal protest with the signs and whatnot. I am going to march in front of City Hall until my feet bleed.”
The petition reads, “We are dissatisfied with the transit service that is currently being offered.”
The first point on the petition is “ All buses to be equipped to handle the cold temperatures of the Prince Albert climate, therefore being heated during the winter season to a point of warmth that is safe and reasonable for both the drivers and passengers.”
Right now the drivers and passengers are under terrible winter conditions, Fairbairn said.
“There is no heat, 90 per cent of the time,” Fairbairn said. “On New Year’s Eve, one guy was wearing a snowmobile suit to drive the bus … They had a security guy on the bus for problems and he was almost frozen.”
He said two drivers were off sick because of the conditions and have complained to the bus company, First Canada.
“The law says if the bus temperature goes below 10 C the city can fine them,” Fairbairn said.
After reading Fairbairn’s letter, Miller decided to check out the heating issues first-hand.
“I did ride the bus (Tuesday) for about two hours,” Miller said. “I did go on the East Flats and West Flats routes and my feet were very chilly at the end.”
Miller passed on Fairbairn’s concerns to administration and Keri Sexsmith in public works.
“We have only had three complaints this year about the heat and then we also have some drivers complaining about the heat as well,” Sexsmith said. “Right now we are going through all the buses, making sure all the vents are blowing heat but with this cold weather and the doors opening and closing all the time, it is just about impossible to keep the bus warm.”
Since the bus service is contracted out to First Canada, it is their responsibility to provide heat on the buses, not the city, Sexsmith said.
“We have in our contract that if they don’t have heat on the bus, they will be penalized and won’t be paid for the hours they don’t have heat,” Sexsmith said. “Right now, what they are telling me and what we have found is that there is heat on the bus, it is just not keeping up to -40 C.”
The second point on the petition said riders would like to see “hours of operation to be changed to seven days per week with longer hours during weekdays and Saturdays.”
“I take the bus all the time,” Fairbairn said. “I am always hoping to see extended hours.”
Fairbairn said there have been times when he has either worked later into the evening or on the weekend and is unable to take the bus home because it is not running. Since he is legally blind, his only other option is to take a taxi.
“As far as hours and other concerns, I have a report that is trying to get to council in regards to improvements to transit,” Sexsmith said. “We just did a transit survey where we asked people what they thought we could improve and where they thought we were doing good and one of the things they wanted done was hours.”
Extending the bus hours will be recommended to council, Sexsmith said, but whether or not it happens depends on their decision.
“In order to expand the service the way I recommended the expansion I think was over $500,000, so that needs to be budgeted,” Sexsmith said. “We don’t just have $500,000 laying around. We will see what council decides. They have a lot of items on their agenda this year and they don’t want to do too many increases.”
Since there are so many concerns transit users have with the current service, the third point on the petition asks that the City of Prince Albert provide the transit service rather than contracting it out.
“This allows the City of Prince Albert to be responsible to the citizens and be able to respond effectively in an appropriate and timely manner,” the petition said.
“I am 64 years old, I’ve lived all over Canada and I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Fairbairn said. “My wife and I have been here in this city for three years and I’ve never seen this type of situation.
“They are allowed to get away with everything,” he added. “There is nobody saying, ‘Just wait a minute, there are laws here, there are standards.’”
Miller said dealing with a contract is a complex situation because the contractors are responsible for things, not the city.
“It is really out of city councillors’ hands because we can only bring it as far as our administration and our administration has to take care of it from there,” Miller said.
The situation might be different if the city ran its own bus service, she added.
“It would be really different if these were the city bus drivers and the city buses,” Miller said. “Regardless, I am going to ask how much we spend on that contract at city council next week and go from there.
“To me, I don’t know if we are actually saving money doing it this way or not -- paying them to do the contract and balancing out everything else I don’t know if it is beneficial for us to be running it or for them to do it,” she added.
Miller said the concerns were brought to administration’s attention and they are dealing with the situation the best they can.
“Right now, they have been doing whatever we ask them to do,” Sexsmith said about First Canada. “I know they have their own issues, but right now, from the city’s perspective, they are running the bus service and doing a good job at that.
“From our survey, it seems that people are liking what we are doing and we are increasing ridership,” she added. “We have increased 10 percent, 11 per cent and then I think seven per cent in the last three years. People seem to like what we are trying to do and although we know we have some issues, we are working on improving those.”
Although administration said they are working on improvements, Fairbairn will still be out, collecting signatures for his petition. Last time he spoke with the Herald, he had 40 signatures after only a few days.