June 23rd, 2024

Transit grants lower under new program

By Collin Gallant on August 15, 2018.

NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GALLANT
The provincial government is changing a transit grant program that the City of Medicine Hat used in 2015 to pay $10 million towards the cost of new bus purchases.


cgallant@medicinehatnews.com
@CollinGallant

The province is revamping and cutting back on a system of transit grants it provides to municipalities, a system the City of Medicine Hat leaned on heavily to buy natural gas-fuelled buses over the past several years.

With the popular 10-year “GreenTrip” transit grant program having run its course, Transportation Minister Brian Mason on Tuesday announced details of the incoming Alberta Community Transit fund, known as ACT.

It puts a premium on lowering emissions as well as regional collaboration, but will only provide about one-fifth the money the more general GreenTrip program provided. Those are two caveats that may make money less accessible for Medicine Hat.

“Would I like it to be a lot more? You bet,” said Mason during a tele-press conference from Edmonton, referencing the provincial budget, which is projected to show an $8-billion deficit this year. “But the fiscal reality is there.”

GreenTrip was launched in 2008 with $2 billion to be spent over 10 years to improve transit service, which, even when diesel fuel is used, reduces congestion and pollution compared to individual vehicle use.

ACT’s $215 million in funding over five years is partly paid for with $115 million of revenue from the Alberta Carbon Levy. It considers grants of up to half the cost of buying new electric powered buses, or 40 per cent of those that use compressed natural gas. Launched Tuesday, applications are due by year end.

Medicine Hat began switching its bus fleet to natural gas power several years ago — a program boosted by $10 million from GreenTrip for vehicle purchases.

It’s not clear how collaboration could be employed in local grants.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson told reporters the provincial government’s commitment to transit projects was substantial, and included billions for specific rail and other projects in major cities.

Mason says the previous system encouraged smaller municipalities to buy one or two buses, then build administration and operations that are less cost efficient than larger networks.

“The new program creates the right incentives to move towards more green transit fleets and facilities in Alberta,” he said.

In Medicine Hat, regional transit routes, particularly to Redcliff, have often been discussed, but have generally been a non-starter among local councils due to cost.

A pilot city route to the Box Springs Business Park, near the town and city boundary, was cancelled several years ago due to low ridership.

Last month, Redcliff Mayor Dwight Kilpatrick told the News a new provincial program to include his town on a Highway 3 route that runs through Medicine Hat could show the need or viability of local intercity busing.

Similar to GreenTrip, ACT only provides capital funding, not funds for ongoing operations, though the city operates fleet purchases via a reserve system in which departments build vehicle replacements into annual expenses.

In 2015, the province announced more than $14 million for vehicle and project spending in Medicine Hat, including money for the fleet conversion to natural gas and also the filling station located on 10th Avenue SW.

The spending boost helped rebalance the city’s fleet budget, which was strained by general modernization costs as well as a new policy to by newer vehicles sooner to cut maintenance costs.

As well, other grants that had stood in for bus buying were then used elsewhere.

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