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Roam transit potentially facing higher than anticipated maintenance costs

Roam forecasts going $830K over budget for maintenance in 2024.
Roam transit 2
A Roam transit electric bus in Banff in 2023. RMO FILE PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – Early indications are it could be an expensive maintenance year for Roam transit.

The transit authority is forecasting maintenance could be $830,000 more than the budgeted $2.42 million for 2024.

The forecast comes after Roam was $441,000 over budget for the first quarter of January to April for parts, maintenance and vehicle supplies.

Martin Bean, CEO of Roam, said there were multiple factors, but the key reason continues to be issues in the supply chain.

“There’s significant increases in the costs of parts and the delays in getting parts,” he said.

The high-profile Proterra bankruptcy, which saw a sale finalized to Phoenix Motorcars Inc. earlier this year, has continued to lead to a lack of parts as it finalizes new contracts. Bean said Roam has outsourced parts elsewhere or cannibalized from its three electric buses out of service to keep the other seven running.

Bean added the Town of Banff has a full complement of mechanics, which operate between the municipal fleet but primarily focus on buses. It means buses can be more quickly worked on, leading to more repairs getting done.

“It is really helping to keep the fleet going, catching up on some of the smaller maintenance items they weren’t able to do when they were short-staffed,” he said.

Additionally, with transit commission approving its budget in October in advance of municipal budget approvals, their numbers are based on six months from the past year rather than a full year leading to possible discrepancies.

“There’s a lot of costs that are unknown at that time that change between October and now,” said Bean.

During the first four months of 2024, Roam spent $177,000 more than budgeted on parts. Maintenance was $250,000 above the budgeted amount and including vehicle supplies, the total vehicle expenses are $441,000 over budget.

In talks with the Town of Banff – which completes work on Roam buses – maintenance labour hours are expected to be 13,600 this year when 8,800 were budgeted.

“Based on these estimates, administration forecasts that total vehicle maintenance costs will be approximately $830,000 above budgeted figures for the year,” stated a Roam staff report. “This estimate may fluctuate lower dependent on workforce remaining at a full complement throughout the year.”

Bean said the Town of Banff fleet maintenance team will present to the transit commission in the future on their challenges and operations.

Of Roam’s 32 buses, there are six different types, Bean said, ranging from highway coaches, electric and transit buses and smaller buses used for Canmore’s local route.

Roam staff will return to the commission’s July meeting with a maintenance study completed by a consultant. The report will look at where costs are out of line and will have comparators to other transit agencies to find improvements.

“Part of it is to see how we can improve the effectiveness of our maintenance and also reduce costs wherever possible and lower the amount of downtime that we have for buses off the road for maintenance,” said Bean.

One bus will also be out of service until at least July after an oil plug was ripped out when it went over a new speed bump at the Three Sisters roundabout in Canmore. According to the June agenda, the bus was going 13 kilometres per hour, but with the oil plug extending below the oil pan it caused significant damage to the engine seizing without the driver knowing and led to “catastrophic engine failure”.

Bean said the bus is in Calgary and being repaired. Roam is filing an insurance claim, with the construction company and province potentially being found liable due to “an impassable speed bump and no additional signage”.

A second bus had the same issue, but the damage was caught before it resulted in engine damage.

The transit commission approved a maintenance budget of $2.42 million – a 24 per cent increase of $1.95 million in 2023. The 2024 budget anticipated $1.35 million in labour and fixed costs, with $932,000 for parts and contracted services and $133,000 for supplies.

However, labour and fixed costs are now forecasted to hit $1.97 million, with parts and contracted services at $1.1 million and supplies at $160,000.

The anticipated breakdown in extra costs would be $366,500 for Banff (44 per cent), $224,600 for Canmore (27 per cent), $145,900 for Parks Canada (18 per cent) and $91,500 (11 per cent) for I.D. No. 9.

“It’s definitely concerning based on what was budgeted and the budget conversations did include Town of Banff numbers we did our budget on. … This is a significant number,” Bean said at the June 12 meeting.

Bean said unlike previous years where a shortage of drivers was the main issue, several people are able to drive for Roam, this year..

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