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Elliot Lake council adds three new Bluebird buses to city's transit fleet

Buses expected to perform well in Elliot Lake climate and meet the needs of people with accessibility issues
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Elliot Lake's Director of Public Works Daryl Halloch recommended last month that the City buy two 26-foot Bluebird school bus style buses from a Brantford, Ont. company to resurrect the hard hit City transit system.

He and a senior city mechanic visited Brantford recently to have a look at and ride the Bluebird buses first hand. At Tuesday night's council meeting, Elliot Lake Technical Supervisor Zach told Coun. Tom Turner, "There were no squeaks, no rattles, no bangs. I was impressed, yes."

With Mr. Halloch absent from Tuesday night's meeting, Coun. Chris Patrie urged his fellow Elliot Lake Council members to up the Public Works director's recommendation to buy two new buses and go him one better, by purchasing three new Bluebird buses for a total of $270,408 plus tax.

"I'm the one who always wants to lower spending but now I recommend we get these three for our transit system," Patrie said.

At a committee meeting last week, Halloch recommended Elliot Lake purchase two of the Brantford-built buses for $195,360 plus taxes.

Coun. Luc Cyr said his concerns about safety and accessibility issues on the new machines were satisfied during a detailed review of the Bluebird buses at the committee. He said the meeting allayed his concerns both ways.

In 2015 and 2016 Elliot Lake Transit acquired two Indiana-built Arboc Specialty Vehicle buses which had to be taken out of service this winter due to structural frame failures. By then It was too late to cancel an order for a third Arboc bus, which is on it's way here but won't be delivered to Elliot Lake for several more months. The failed Arboc buses proved unable to withstand the rigours of Northern Ontario winters and the snow and ice-packed streets and roads of Elliot Lake.

The new Bluebird buses are "18" and "2", which means they can accommodate 18 passengers plus two wheel chairs which are loaded via a lift at the side and to the rear of each bus, or, they can accommodate 20 seated passengers plus standees, if needed.

These buses can also accommodate up to six wheelchair after the removal of some seats. The Bluebird buses have a boarding step mounted at 90 degrees to the side of the bus, at the base of the access door.

Mayor Dan Marchisella told Council that the City has sufficient financial reserves to cover the triple purchase. 

"I want to make sure we're improving accessibility for passengers using walkers. For the past four years every week I've been hearing complaints about problems from people with walkers. They're unable to get their walkers on our buses," Coun. Cyr said. 

He also said he was pleased the Bluebird buses will be completely outfitted with forward facing seating. On the old buses some passengers reported problems with sliding off seats. There is also an option for seat belts for riders who prefer them.

Since the failed Arboc buses were removed from service this winter, the city has had to rent school buses to cover Elliot Lake's transit routes. Council was told this is an expensive process.

Along with better technical specs, councillors were assured by Economic Development Coordinator Ashten Vlahovich that the drivers and operators of the Bluebird buses will be fully trained about their safety and accessibility features.

The city will also be installing a GPS-based passenger managing system which could lead to a re-do of the routes to make sure they're realistic. There will also be a customer feedback program to monitor rider satisfaction with the coming changes.

"With the new 26-foot bus, we will have to provide the accessibility service the riders want, not what we say they need," said Coun. Sandy Finamore, who was out of town and not able to attend in person but took part in the debate at the meeting via telephone hookup.


About the Author: Brent Sleightholm

As a reporter, Brent has covered everything from amateur and professional sports, to politics, entertainment, police and courts, to human interest stories and government issues
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