City's green vehicle system plagued with problems: lawsuit

A Winnipeg businessman says he's stunned by allegations that his company has breached the terms of a $1-million contract awarded by the City of Winnipeg in an effort to boost its environmental-friendliness and financial bottom line.

A Winnipeg businessman says he's stunned by allegations that his company has breached the terms of a $1-million contract awarded by the City of Winnipeg in an effort to boost its environmental-friendliness and financial bottom line.

Winnipeg-based J.A. Robinson Pump Service Ltd. breached the terms of a $982,680 contract to outfit about 1,600 city vehicles with a system ultimately meant to control fuel costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, court documents obtained by CBC News allege.

One part of the system involved installing "black boxes" in the city's entire fleet  — from large trucks to riding mowers — to track vehicle idling and fuel consumption.

The plan was tabled years ago as part of an overall "green vehicle" initiative for the city's Fleet Management Agency, which is run as an arms-length enterprise.

'This equipment is exactly what they wanted.'—Vic Robinson, owner, J.A. Robinson Pump Service

In September 2008, the city awarded J.A. Robinson the contract to install the devices (which are made by a third party) along with a fuel management system for city-operated refueling sites.

However, lawyers for the city have filed a claim in the Court of Queen's Bench against the company seeking repayment of $629,000 in money it's already paid and other costs.

The city alleges widespread issues have resulted from the company's work — issues it claims have prompted safety concerns in some cases. 

"The work performed and goods provided by Robinson to date do not meet the specifications of the city and are not reasonably fit for the purpose for which the city required them," the claim states.

Allegations 'out of left field,' owner says

No statement of defence has been filed in court, and the allegations against the company have not been proven.

Reached at his home Thursday evening, J.A. Robinson owner Vic Robinson said he had only just received a copy of the lawsuit.

He said the city's allegations came "right out of left field" and that the company plans to fight them "vigorously."

"It will be defended to the nines," Robinson said, adding his company has satisfied all the requirements of the contract.

"They generated the RFP [request for proposal], and this equipment is exactly what they wanted," Robinson said. The equipment the company provided is used across the country, he added.

The city said it wanted the black boxes installed in the vehicles to capture and wirelessly transmit data including fuel use and maintenance information. Eventually, the city also hoped to be able to track employee attendance with the system.

As well, a provided fuel management system at city fuel stations would allow "unattended control, tracking and reconciliation of fuel and other fluid consumables," the claim states.

However, among the city's allegations are that the devices drain vehicle batteries when the vehicle is not used — in some cases as quickly as overnight — and leave them inoperable.

As well, the city claims a part of the company's fuel system has been installed in a way that "raises safety concerns since it … causes fuel to continually dispense," and that underestimates the amount of fuel being pumped.

The lawsuit also alleges there have been "multiple failures" due to "inadequate computer infrastructure" at a fuel site.

According to its website, J.A. Robinson was started in 1958 and now has offices in several provinces. The company sells, installs, and services petroleum, car wash, hoist and compressor, fuel management, and vehicle data capture equipment," a posted description says.


James Turner is a former courts and crime reporter for various Manitoba media outlets, including CBC Manitoba. He now teaches journalism and photography at Red River College Polytechnic.