City sells seniors bus

A bus the city used to shuttle seniors to outings around the Island will be sold and the service replaced by private operators.

The 22-passenger bus was used by Nanaimo Parks, Recreation and Culture to take seniors on about 70 outings a year. It was in service for at least 10 years, said Bob Kuhn, manager of recreation and culture services, but providing the vehicle became too expensive.

"We've been thinking for the last year about no longer providing the transportation service," Kuhn said. "We're in the recreation and culture business, not the transportation business."

The bus had to be maintained even though it sat idle most days, making just four or five trips per month. There were also licensing and insurance costs, plus costs to hire a driver for each outing, and liability issues.

"We don't have a good way of dealing with break downs and things like that," Kuhn said. "The bus is maintained regularly, but we've had several times when the bus just quit working, so we've got a busload of seniors stranded in Campbell River and you've got to find a way to get them back home. It's a bit of nightmare."

Kuhn said the fees for outings will rise because the city is no longer providing the vehicle, which was heavily subsidized, but seniors and parks and rec will be better served by hiring tour companies well-equipped to handle such situations.

Parks and rec will still host the same number of seniors outings, but the transportation service is being contracted out to Tracks Outdoor Adventures and EtaBus Tours.

June Ross, a volunteer seniors advocate who works through Nanaimo Harbour City Seniors, said the move to privatize is the wrong decision.

"I think it sucks big time," Ross said. "I think if they're having a budget crunch, there have got to be other things they can be looking at. They shouldn't be touching that."

Ross said contracting the service will drive up prices, making trips unaffordable for some seniors.

Neither Ross nor Kuhn had figures outlining new fees for trips.

Trips in December ranged in price from about $18 for outings in Nanaimo to more than $80 for a trip to Capilano Canyon in Vancouver, which included costs for the bus, admission and ferry.

A Tracks Outdoor Adventure snowshoe outing scheduled for Friday (Jan. 20) includes transportation, snow shoe rental, guide and park pass for $88.48.

Ross said seniors will have no alternative but to try the new service.

"I think they should invest in our seniors and keep the bus in place," Ross said.

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