Fare play: Games grapples with buses

Just one bus company bid on the Canada Games transportation contract. And the territory is going to pay through the nose for it, say people in the…

Just one bus company bid on the Canada Games transportation contract.

And the territory is going to pay through the nose for it, say people in the business.

“Takhini (Transport) is the only bus company that has the capacity to do what we have to do,” said Games general manager Chris Morrissey.

“So that contract has got to happen — there’s no way around that.”

Problem is, Takhini knows it.

And it’s calling the shots.

“We’ve given them a price and they seem to have accepted it,” said Takhini general manager Pat Jamieson on Monday.

“And we’re not in a position to offer a donation.”

Takhini, a subsidiary of Watson Lake Bus Company, took a financial hit when the NWT’s Cantung mine — which is serviced through Watson Lake — went bankrupt in 2003. The bus company is just recovering, she said.

Takhini’s upcoming $205,000 Games contract, still in negotiation, may help keep it afloat.

“They’re writing their own ticket,” said A-Line Buses owner Al Fedoriak.

“It’s opportunist; I have to give (Takhini) credit for that.

“And the company’s working with people who don’t know anything about the business.”

Fedoriak, who still owns four buses, has been in the business for more than 25 years.

In the late ‘70s, he was Education’s manager of transport. And during his 16 years managing Diversified Transportation, which ran school buses in Whitehorse and most rural Yukon communities, Fedoriak organized busing for two Arctic Winter Games.

“My main concern when I saw the (Games’ transportation) proposal come out — and it’s the same mentality I first experienced with the Arctic Winter Games — was that the people in charge of transportation have no experience in logistics or in designing a service.

“I saw it was going to be a mess.

“And I suggested to them that perhaps they should get somebody to design the service for them.”

Instead, the committee turned to Takhini Transport for advice.

“They told us what they wanted the buses to do,” said Jamieson.

“Then we sorted out, approximately, how many buses we needed and how many hours the buses would be running.

“It’s an opportunity to show what we’re capable of — it’s a challenge.”

Takhini expects to use 50 of its 60 buses during the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies, said Jamieson.

And for the duration of the Games, the company expects to be running 20 buses, from about 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Takhini’s rate, per bus, is $85 an hour.

“There’s absolutely no way that you can use 60 buses,” said Fedoriak.

“It’s oversubscribed and impractical.”

School buses are 37 feet long, he said.

“And when you line up 50 of them, about 10 feet apart, that’s roughly two-thirds of a mile.

“Where are you going to park all those buses?”

They’ll stretch all the way from the athletes’ village down to Takhini Elementary School, he said.

The Games only needs 18 buses to service its opening and closing ceremonies, added Fedoriak.

It takes one minute to load a bus, and about seven to drive from the athletes’ village to the tent where the ceremonies are being held, he said.

“So, the first bus would be back to reload just as the last one was leaving.

“You could make money simply by efficiency — you don’t need 50 buses.”

And all the athletes are staying in one place, he said.

“So, no matter how you do it, you’re going to have buses sitting and waiting.

“One minute departures are much safer — you don’t have this huge line of buses with people walking to them.”

If the Games had somebody design the service, it could have saved a lot of money, he said.

“And it’s not the fault of the contractor; it’s the fault of the Games committee.”

When Fedoriak first got involved with the Arctic Winter Games, he revamped its transportation plan.

“If I’d done it the way they designed it, it would have cost $80,000,” he said.

Instead, his new design saved it $45,000.

So, when Fedoriak saw a similar problem arising this time around, he suggested the Games’ committee separate the service design from the provision of service.

He even offered to help with the planning.

But nobody got back to him, he said.

Fedoriak initially submitted a proposal, alongside Takhini, which involved renting the buses from other companies.

But he was told he would not qualify because he didn’t own them.

“Then I got a call from (the committee), asking me to resubmit,” said Fedoriak.

However, by then, he realized the transportation committee faced too many unknowns.

“There wasn’t enough specifics,” said Fedoriak.

So he didn’t reapply.

Several months later, the Games’ transportation specifics are still in short supply.

“I don’t know if they have the schedules that say this is when all the athletes will be arriving and how many there are and what time of day,” said Jamieson.

“I don’t have any of that, and I don’t know that they do either.”

The weak link is being dependent on other people for that information, she said.

Takhini Transport was the only company to submit a proposal, said transportation committee co-chair Travis Richie.

“And there’s no shortage of people looking, in addition to Takhini Transport, to make sure the pencils are sharp on the bid, as far as the actual work that will be done and the price — everyone’s concerned and serious about making sure it works for the Games and making sure it’s affordable.”

Though interested in the contract, Whitehorse’s Norline Coaches also couldn’t supply enough buses.

“It was kind of a done deal,” said owner Ron Swizdaryk.

“There was only one place they could go.

“And when you’re the only people who can do it, you have a captive audience.”

Swizdaryk, who is a Games sponsor and owns two coaches, hoped to land a smaller transportation contract.

“But, now, there’s no money left in the (transportation) budget,” he said.

“I believe all the money went to Takhini.”

Most of the transportation service is being provided by in-kind donations, said transportation committee chair Brian Richie.

The committee’s $215,000 cash budget covers Takhini Transport’s contract, and leaves only $10,000 for contingency spending, he said.

If designed properly, the Games could have saved more than $50,000 on transportation, said Fedoriak.

Just dropping the number of buses to 18 from 50 during the opening ceremonies would save $11,000 at the going rate, he said.

And the rate is questionable, said Fedoriak.

“(Takhini) have a set contract with the department of Education that covers all their fixed costs.”

So it will only have to cover fuel and labour, he said.

When Fedoriak was with Diversified, he charged the department of Education about $70 an hour for regular service, he said.

Diversified did extra jobs for $50 an hour, because its fixed costs were covered by Education, he added.

 “Depreciation, insurance, my office, our shop and utilities were all covered by the fixed contract,” said Fedoriak.

The current charter rate is $85 an hour, he said.

“But not when you have a fixed contract covering all fixed costs.”

Charing $85 an hour, Takhini’s going to make a pile of money, he said.

“My concern, and why I wanted to get involved, at least with the service design, is because I live here,” said Fedoriak.

“And my kids live here and we’re going to be stuck with the bills from these Games, whether we like it or not.”