Local journalism initiative

Brampton envisages a new federal funding model to secure much-needed funds for transit

For many Brampton residents, transit is the only way to get around. A quarter of respondents in a 2019 Brampton Transit survey said they only use public transport because they have no other option. Another quarter of respondents said that when they are not using Brampton Transit they are a passenger in another vehicle. Brampton has big plans for the future, many of which are listed in city documents describing a busy community with more jobs, greener landscapes and a vibrant downtown core. To make this vision a reality and accommodate steady population growth, services are required to reflect that growth. There is also no lack of transit plans. The persistent problem that employees face, as with many other projects, is a lack of funding. A long-standing item on this list is the city’s third transit maintenance and storage facility, a project the community has funded for a year. Brampton’s 2021 budget celebrated a $ 175 million investment in the facility, as outlined in a December press release. Like other large ticket items that included the budget, the city didn’t mention that it didn’t have the funding and gave no indication of where it would be from. The process of securing funding for this specific project was outlined in a report submitted to the city council in February. The $ 175 million construction cost application was submitted via public transportation through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). The document was filed in the fall of 2019, a city spokesman confirmed to The Pointer, and it has not yet been approved at the time. The construction of the facility was divided into two phases. The initial $ 175 million will be spent on the first phase of construction and will accommodate 250 buses when completed. At a council workshop earlier this month, staff said they hope funding comes soon, a statement they have largely repeated over the past year. They continue to assume that construction of the facility will be completed by 2024. No specific alternative plans or dates have been submitted if funding is not approved. The second phase requires additional funds that employees have not yet publicly shared, and creates space for 188 additional buses. The additional storage space in both phases is urgently needed. City officials have stated that Brampton Transit is quickly reaching the capacity to store and service its fleet in its current location. In order for the second phase of the transit facility to be completed, part of Rainbow Creek must be realigned. On this month’s Transit Advisory Committee, Doug Rieger, director of transit development, said the realignment is included as part of the redevelopment plans for that part of town and is likely to move forward, but staff suggested that the project expansion could be delayed if the creek does not is not realigned as planned. “The realignment of the stream must be done before development. Whenever this happens, this work will be done … when we get closer to that, we will move forward with the plans for this facility expansion and are pretty confident that this can be done in a nutshell, ”said Rieger. Brampton will not be able to submit any further funding requests through the ICIP public transport stream as previous requests have exhausted the city’s budget allocation. In total, the submitted projects amount to 479 million US dollars. A spokesman for the city told The Pointer that all applications under the ICIP were made in the fall of 2019. This includes, among other things, the financing of growth buses, replacement buses and a transport hub. Funding for some of these projects has already been approved. In addition to the construction costs, the city has been unable to fund the approximate price of $ 150 million to electrify this facility for more than a year, which is used to pay for the on-site chargers and energy storage. This price is likely to continue to rise as this cost does not include the higher purchase price for electric buses compared to diesel buses or chargers needed when a bus leaves the facility. After months of back and forth with no answers, the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) growth plan for Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) has resulted in a $ 10 billion funding option. The funds will fund five initiatives, including $ 1.5 billion for the introduction of electric buses. The aim is to “expand and accelerate the introduction of emission-free buses in order to modernize the bus fleets, reduce greenhouse gases and lower operating costs in the long term,” says the plan. The program is specifically aimed at investing in zero-emission buses to meet the federal government’s commitment to help municipalities buy 5,000 zero-emission school and transit buses between 2020 and 2024. The money from the program can also be used for infrastructure requirements to accommodate the buses. Unlike previous funding Brampton has received, the money is provided by the CIB not as a grant but as a loan, which means the city will eventually have to find the funds to repay the government. At this point, the federal government has not released details of the repayment terms, notes the personnel report, but states that the funding model is negotiable. “With regard to the electrification of our fleet, we see a creative solution. It’s a risk-sharing model between organizations, ”said Alex Milojevic, General Manager of Brampton Transit, during the City Council meeting on February 17th. The Council agreed to the staff’s request to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the CIB to discuss the details of a possible agreement. At the council workshop, Milojevic alluded to the fact that a contract could be concluded this year. “There are currently opportunities that will arise.” Financing projects through debt is not a new concept for the city. The 2021 budget lists five projects that the municipality financed in 2020 with external debt of USD 280.2 million. The only project to be financed in this way in 2021 is the construction of the third maintenance facility. Brampton attempted to fund the $ 150 million prize that summer by sending a request directly to the federal government. A motion tabled by Mayor Patrick Brown in June said Ottawa’s help was needed to get this project off the ground. In response, the federal government indicated that the city was not following the correct procedure and noted that the project must first be prioritized by the state government before funding could be approved. A second project the city wants to fund through the CIB is the second phase of its electric bus trial, which is estimated to cost $ 32 million. The staff report stated that the CIB could assist this program in paying the difference in the higher costs associated with an electric bus versus diesel. That funding, in turn, would be provided as a loan rather than a grant, meaning the city would eventually have to find the money to pay for it. While the Council, like many other transit projects, approved the second phase attempt, the success of the program depends on external funding from higher levels of government. A spokesman for the city announced that in addition to the CIB, funding options for The Pointer are also being examined. The first phase of the long-awaited project, which was originally planned for late 2020 or early 2021, is now scheduled for spring. An update on the city’s website says electric buses will arrive in Brampton on January 28th. At the City Council workshop, Ivana Tomas, Head of Transit Services, discussed the cost differences between a diesel bus and an electric bus, which are twice as much under the CIB. Hydrogen buses, another option currently being examined, cost three times as much as a diesel bus, according to the presentation. Tomas bragged about the new financing option, saying the electrification of the fleet is a project that will pay for itself. “When we look at repaying the loan, we are going to look at all of the savings, operational and maintenance savings that we will get from operating electric buses and use that money to repay the loan,” said Tomas. Email: nida.zafar@thepointer.com Twitter: @nida_zafar Tel: 416-890-7643 COVID-19 affects all Canadians. At a time when everyone needs critical information for the public, The Pointer has removed our paywall for all pandemic and public concern stories to ensure that every Brampton and Mississauga resident has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us cover important topics of public concern that the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. After that, The Pointer charges $ 10 per month and you can cancel anytime directly on the website. Thank you. Nida Zafar, reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative, The Pointer