CANMORE – Roam transit is entering the staff accommodation field.
The Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission approved the purchase of a common amenity unit in a new development in Canmore’s Teepee Town.
The decision was made as the transit agency continues to take steps to address its staff shortage, which saw some of its seasonal routes run less frequently than originally planned in 2022.
“I’m really supportive of not only doing a lot of work on the financing to make sure it’s favourable, but the fact that we’re purchasing it,” said Tanya Foubert, one of two Canmore council representatives on the commission. “I think that provides long-term stability not just for us as a commission, but for current and future employees.
“The key to success in our communities as businesses is having employee housing and having the ability to put even in a temporary way, to house people. It’s really tough out there and it’s harder than I’ve ever seen it to get a place to live, so the fact there’s a rental unit in Banff and purchasing one in Canmore really speaks to the ability, quality of life and long-term viability to provide the transit we want to offer.”
The commission was previously given options at its December meeting, with a decision postponed until additional information could be received. The decision was made after last summer saw Roam transit experience significant driver and mechanic shortages.
The staff shortage led to several routes being reduced and overtime needed to maintain some route schedules.
The staff report highlighted without staff accommodation, it would likely see a shortage of 12-15 drivers to run routes at the required frequency.
When Roam was recruiting drivers in 2022, lack of housing led to seven drivers passing on employment, according to the report.
Martin Bean, Roam’s CAO, said the organization is undergoing a process of hiring 38 drivers, which is a “huge undertaking” prior to the busy summer season.
The plan would have the Canmore-based housing be transitional with a three-month lease to allow people to get to the valley, have a place to temporarily live and find other accommodation in the area. Bean said the three months could easily be changed to increase the length.
The transit commission previously approved signing a lease for a three-bedroom property in Middle Springs that began Jan. 1. Bean said the experience with that unit will aid with the Canmore property once construction is complete and people are able to move in.
Bald Eagle Peak Chalets was approved by the Canmore Planning Commission in 2021, but a lengthy Subdivision and Development Appeal Board process led to a delayed start to construction. It’s expected to be finished in late 2023 or early 2024.
The development will have 13 townhome units and six employee housing units.
The purchase price for a five-bedroom, five-bathroom unit would have been about $1.079 million, according to a staff report. The rental option for the same choice was estimated at about $5,500 a month, with additional fees for storage and parking.
The 2023 budget sets aside $20,500 for housing options for drivers.
The transit commission will use the province’s loan program to borrow for capital projects – which was recommended by staff – since the Municipal Government Act doesn’t allow transit commissions to be guaranteed by a municipality for loans.
However, Roam staff can return to the commission if a better financing opportunity is found.
Joanna McCallum, the chair of the commission and a Canmore council representative, noted when she came to the Bow Valley and was told by her employer the best staff accommodation attracts the best staff.
She also highlighted that with common amenity housing new in Canmore, it’s a chance to provide needed staff housing.
“This particular forum is quite new in Canmore, so in some ways we get to be trail breakers. … We have the opportunity to take advantage of the market at this time and be leaders in terms of providing housing on a civic level,” she said.
With the majority of Bow Valley municipalities prioritizing public transit as a way to travel, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address affordability concerns, the transit authority has grown significantly in recent years as service has ramped up.
Canmore has long had free public transit, but Banff joined last year when residents of the town were able to ride for no charge. Both Banff and Canmore local routes have or will increase frequency, with the regional route between the two communities also set to increase service. Parks Canada has also been aggressive in promoting public transit over private vehicle use, leading to a greater need for transit staff.
Roam transit also hit a new record in ridership in the history of its service, seeing 1.651 million use its buses. The increase was an eight per cent jump from the 1.527 million in 2019.
“We have a strong desire in visitors and residents to use transit and we have the ability to provide it, but it seems that the housing is the barrier,” Foubert said. “Moving forward with this is a huge deal.”
POTENTIAL NEW BUS FOR CANMORE ROUTES
The commission recommended a new electric bus be purchased to help increase Canmore’s fleet with the three-year pilot Grassi Lakes seasonal route expected to come online in 2024.
The decision will ultimately have to receive approval from Canmore council, but Bean said a letter of intent that’s non-binding would be signed to notify Proterra of the likelihood of a new bus being part of its contract with the City of Edmonton. If Canmore council approves the purchase, Roam would enter into a purchasing agreement.
With the bus costing about $1.4 million, the bulk of the funding – 80 per cent – will come from the Federal-Rural Transit Solutions fund. The Town of Canmore will be on the hook for about $280,000 and lead to an annual requisition increase of roughly $60,000 for operating and capital costs.
The staff report noted with four buses in Canmore’s local fleet, an extra bus would help provide spare capacity in case of breakdowns. It added that three of Canmore’s buses are 30-foot Vicinity diesel buses, which need more maintenance.
“Roam is increasingly short on vehicle capacity to operate Canmore local service, and this has necessitated the need to bring in buses from the Banff garage which are not designated for Canmore local service. With COVID levels of service this was feasible, however, this is becoming more difficult with increased service and ridership,” according to the report.
The bus would increase Canmore’s spare capacity from the recommended 25-40 per cent ratio to 66 per cent, allowing for future route expansion, the report stated.
McCallum said it was “an important guiding document” in allocating resources and the “last thing they want” is to be short of buses.
Bean noted 15 years is the lifespan they use for the amortization of buses and maintaining the buses locally in Canmore is something they will look at in the future, but nothing has been formally discussed.
The Canmore transit storage building on Boulder Crescent is undergoing electric vehicle charging infrastructure installation, according to the report.
Canmore is also undergoing a public transit service review, with results expected this year and any potential recommendations being discussed for 2024.
The expected delivery of the bus would be in the first half of 2024.
TRANSIT BUDGET AMENDED
The transit commission approved amendments to the 2023-25 Roam operating budget and its 10-year capital budget with both the towns of Banff and Canmore finalizing their municipal budgets.
The Banff operating budget for 2023 will see a climb from $1.91 million to $1.94 million and the capital budget will remain at $296,000. Canmore will increase slightly less than $300,000 in operating costs going from the previously approved $1.485 million to $1.756 million for 2023.
The changes are for increased service on the Banff-Canmore regional route 3 and the Canmore local route 5 in 2023.
The service is expected to increase in the spring and see the extra bus on route 3 reach 25-minute frequency during peak weekday hours. The weekend hours will also increase to match hours on weekdays, while the last departure from Banff will be shortly after 11 p.m. and from Canmore at about 11:40 p.m.
Banff council also approved an electric bus for 2025, while Canmore will see an increase in the 2024 budget for an electric bus on its local routes.
Parks Canada’s operating budget remained at $1.66 million for 2023, while Improvement District No. 9 also keeps the same at $695,000 for operating budget and $78,000 for capital costs in 2023.
The total operating expenses for 2023 are budgeted at $9.175 million with total income after the municipal requisitions being $9.858 million.