City Council brings back the bus

Successful test run proves Iqaluit has a viable market for public transportation



Iqaluit is getting the bus back on the road — and it could happen as early as next month.

Council agreed to bring back the service during this week’s city council session, after Dillon Consulting presented its final report on the October trial run.

Ericka Chemko is thrilled with the city’s decision. Chemko lives and works in Apex, about five kilometres from the main businesses and services in the city, but every day she has to drop off and pick up her son at daycare downtown.

Since the four-week trial run, she and her son have had to return to taking taxis, which costs them $18 a day. When the bus service resumes with its $2 fare, the daily trips will cost only $8.

“We’re very excited to have it back on the road,” she said. “It’s just too bad it took so long.”

The report identified a potential public transportation market in Iqaluit, though the community will be one of the smallest in the country to have a bus service.

In 1980, before Iqaluit’s population boom, the city ran two buses from Apex to Iqaluit, picking up passengers along Ring Road, seven days a week. The service was dropped after two years because it continued to lose money.

More than 20 years later, severe climate conditions, the remoteness of some of the residential areas and the desire for an affordable, environmentally friendly transportation option have created a need for the service again, the consultants said.

Over the trial period, which ran from Oct. 21 to Nov. 18, a total of 1,358 rate-paying passengers rode the bus. Rider numbers rose from 336 in week one to 416 in week three. That number dropped to 280 in week four, but the consultants suggest that was due to uncertainty about holiday service on Nov. 11 and the pending completion of the trial.

People, including Chemko, rode the bus not just to get to work, but to go shopping, visit friends and family, attend school and access medical care.

Matthew Hough, the city’s director of engineering, said in a memo to council summarizing the report, that the public may find the service days and hours less than desirable. But he pointed out there is flexibility to increase the service as usage warrants.

The report suggests the bus service operate with one bus completing two loops, A and B, on an hourly cycle from 7:45 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 7:45 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. and 4:45 to 6:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That amounts to a total of 41 bus hours with no service on the weekends or holidays.

The city’s chief administrative officer, Rick Butler, said the city has allotted $150,000 a year for five years to run the service and is expecting to pull in about $50,000 each year from fares.

There was about $18,000 left over from the money allotted to conduct the trial service, which, Butler said, will be used to get the permanent service up and running.

“There’s a lot of costs that we’ve got to incur to get things going, like bus signs and all that other stuff that we need to get in place,” he said. The plan is to eventually build bus shelters.

Butler said the city is negotiating with R. L. Hanson, the company that conducted the trial run, to operate the service for about six months until sealift. In the meantime they’ll put out a call for tenders.

Butler said it’s possible, if negotiations go well, that the service could be up and running within a month.

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