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New buses to come – but fleet to shrink by more than 20%

Cruise ships at port in Dockyard (File photograph)

A total of $11 million has been committed to new buses – but the size of the fleet is to shrink from 88 vehicles to 70.

The news of the more than 20 per cent cut came as Lawrence Scott the transport minister, said the first of 30 electric buses, worth $4.4 million, was scheduled to to arrive this year.

He added that another $6.6 million was allocated in the 2021-22 Budget for wheelchair accessible buses as part of Phase 2 of improvements.

But Mr Scott admitted that the size of the fleet would go down – and that the Department of Public Transportation would be unable to maintain its present level of special school services.

Mr Scott said: “With the 30 new buses, we will be able to retire ten buses that are currently in service …”

He added: “The goal for the Department of Public Transportation is to provide a reliable, consistent bus service.”

Mr Scott said that the service could run on 70 buses in the summer, but 88 were required in school-term times.

He admitted that the service would no longer be able to field a fleet of 88, but that the Government planned to “strategically reroute” regular services past schools.

Mr Scott said that there was a two-year warranty on the new electric buses and an eight-year warranty on their batteries and propulsion system.

Other budgeted expenses included $457,000 for the introduction of an electronic fare system and $249,000 for equipment to wash buses and other large vehicles.

Mr Scott said the planned digital fare system for the bus service was “a game changer”.

He added: “It will allow us to track our buses in real time using real world data.

“It also will allow for buses to have passenger counters, wi-fi and GPS and we will also use it on ferries.”

Mr Scott said the start of the 2021 cruise ship season was still “fluid”.

He added that the season launch was expected to be in May, with ships operating at 50 per cent capacity.

But he added it was estimated, for Budget purposes, that the season would begin in August and see 75 ships visit Bermuda with just over 105,000 passengers.

Mr Scott said the estimated figures would result in $33 million being spent – but that it was possible the “stars align” and the season would start sooner.

Mr Scott added: “There is a hope on the horizon to resume cruising very slowly in Bermuda and potentially in an even earlier window.”

He said it was hoped an announcement could be made in the near future.

Mr Scott also announced that $5.2 million had been earmarked for a“vessel fleet refit” for public ferries.

He added two new tug boats delivered last October were expected to come into service in May and that the Government also wanted to buy a new pilot boat.

Mr Scott added the budget for the ministry had been almost halved this year.

The budget for the ministry was set at $88.3 million in 2020-21, but the revised estimate put the actual spend at $101.8 million.

But just $59.1 million was allocated for 2021-22 – $29.2 million less than what was budgeted for last year and almost $42.7 million less than was spent.

Mr Scott added a significant portion of the decrease was caused by the movement of tourism-related expenses – including the $21.5 million Bermuda Tourism Authority grant – to the Cabinet Office.

Other reductions were a result of the defunding of vacant posts in the ministry.

Mr Scott said the Department of Marine and Ports would work to ensure a “one boat, one mooring” policy and create legislation to make it easier to remove abandoned boats in the wake of storms.

Scott Pearman, the Shadow Minister of Transport, said that the Bermuda Airport Authority grant – estimated to be $14.5 million in last year’s budget – had risen to $35.5 million in the revised figures for last year.

Mr Scott explained that this included cash paid to Skyport under the minimum-revenue guarantee.

Mr Scott said: “Under the One Bermuda Alliance, the public agreement did not protect Bermuda’s interests when it came to the minimum regulated revenue guarantee and that is based on airline arrivals and the passengers that are carried thereon.

“The shadow minister asked me about my role as chairman of the BAA.

“My role was to create the country’s first air service development strategy. Why is that important?

“If we can increase the number of flights to the island, increase the number of passenger travelling to and from the island, we decrease the risk that all Bermudians have when it comes to having to pay the minimum regulated revenue guarantee.

“We are looking at any and all viable options. The ministry is trying to mitigate the risk.”

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Published March 16, 2021 at 8:32 am (Updated March 16, 2021 at 10:35 am)

New buses to come – but fleet to shrink by more than 20%

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