`Small guy’ ALSCS squeezed out as BC Transit moves to larger providers
By John BoivinIndustry Transportation & Logistics
The head of Arrow and Slocan Lakes Community Services says it’s the end of an era, as his non-profit shuts down the transit wing of its operation after 20 years.
ASLCLS’ service contract with BC Transit ends on October 1 of this year.
“We were the small guy, kind of not being able to compete anymore with the larger groups,” says ASLCS Director Tim Payne, explaining why the contract ended.
ASLCS operated more than 15 buses and managed routes between Castlegar, Nakusp, New Denver, Kaslo, and the Slocan, in Creston, and in and around Nelson for more than two decades. The company operated out of a yard in Nelson.
But Payne says they could also see which way the wind was blowing in the transit industry _ towards a more regionalized service with bigger operators.
“Honestly, we were kind of the `poor cousin,”’ he says. “In the transit industry, we were one of the non-profits that didn’t have the same kind of infrastructure to work with, unlike some of the larger ones.”
He said the writing was on the wall this April, when their Creston contract ended. BC Transit gave ALSCS six months’ notice they would be ending their Kootenay West contract early as well, on October 1.
“In conversation with Transit, what they were looking at is the whole regionalization process, and we are the little guy in the picture,” says Payne. “As a non-profit, we knew we weren’t going to be able to compete when the contract came up next spring.”
When ALSCS’s contract in Creston ended, NextGen (formerly Trail Transit) took over those routes. Payne says his non-profit was prepared to work to the end of their contract for the rest of the West Kootenay routes _ but BC Transit had other ideas.
“We were kind of surprised by the change in the plans,” admits Payne. “We knew we weren’t doing it past next spring, and made some concessions around that? so it surprised us when they changed to moving forward as soon as they did.”
Payne says he and his staff are still trying to determine the impact the end of the contract will have on the Nakusp-based community services agency. While direct programming won’t be affected, the Transit contract did help support accounting and other management services.
“It will be a big change, a big impact financially,” he says. “We will be fine, we’ll be OK, but it’ll be a change for us.”
One program that won’t be affected is the weekly Wednesday medical bus from Nakusp to Kelowna, which Payne says is operated by ASLCS independently.
For its part, BC Transit officials said the agreement with the new carrier “is expected to improve service in the region while providing a greater investment in the maintenance, training and management of the transit system.”
“BC Transit would like to thank Arrow & Slocan Lakes Community Services for their years of operating our service in Kootenay Lake West,” the Crown corporation said in a written statement.
The NextGen contract will be in place until March 2024. Payne wishes them well.
“Knowing our clientele, that was really our strong suit,” said Payne. “Where we really shine is our customer service. Because we look at it in terms of a non-profit organization, it’s not an `all business’ sort of thing.
“So we did have pretty good personal contacts with the passengers, and hopefully that service can be the same for them, that they won’t see a change in that service.”
By John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, VALLEY VOICE