New Brunswick

Future of Saint John Transit looks brighter with new buses, cost savings

It's turning out to be a good year for Saint John Transit. The city commission has reined in costs while securing a property tax break and federal infrastructure money for new buses.

Appeal of property tax assessment saves Saint John Transit $127,000

Saint John Transit will buy 12 new buses with the help of federal infrastructure funding. (CBC)

It's turning out to be a good year for Saint John Transit.

The transit commission has reined in costs while securing a property tax break and federal infrastructure money for new buses.

Ian MacKinnon, Saint John Parking and Transit Commission CEO, told city councillors Monday, transit is on track to reduce costs by $205,000 this year. This is largely by successfully appealing the property tax assessment on the garage and office space.

The appeal lowered the tax bill by $127,000, and it came after the city turned over vacant space in the transit office to the Saint John Free Public Library, east branch. 

"Libraries are tax exempt," said MacKinnon. "That was a very good day when we got that news."

MacKinnon says $50,000 in overtime costs were eliminated by building up a roster of trained part-time drivers.

CEO Ian MacKinnon took over the Saint John Transit and Parking Commission in January 2016. (Saint John Transit and Parking Commission)
He's also hoping to rent out part of the heated garage space, only half of which is now being used.

"The transit garage was designed to accommodate 85, 40-foot buses. We have 43," said MacKinnon.  "I'm going to do everything in my power to use that all."

MacKinnon hopes to collect $100,000 annually in garage and maintenance space rentals and another $100,000 by rearranging bus routes to suit demand.

He expects that will mean a combination of cutting back on some routes and beefing up others.

He's also preparing a proposal for special bus passes for students at the University of New Brunswick's Saint John campus and the New Brunswick Community College.

In the future, MacKinnon is projecting $335,000 in annual savings.

I'm very encouraged by the direction we're going in with transit.- Don Darling, Saint John mayor

The report was praised by city councillors.

Over the years, transit has struggled with rising costs and declining ridership.

MacKinnon was hired to run the newly amalgamated Saint John Transit and Parking Commission in January 2016.

"That [$335,000 in savings] is cumulative, so year over year," Mayor Don Darling said. "I'm very encouraged by the direction we're going in with transit."

Saint John Transit also secured a cash injection of $3.6 million from the federal government's Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.

Much of that money was directed toward the purchase of 12 new diesel buses, which will arrive in early 2018.