Alberni school district’s $400,000 annual water taxi bill shuttling students between Meares Island and Tofino will drop to $140,000 this year as a new service provider has been hired.
Last week the school district signed a five-year contract with Tofino Water Taxi, with an option to extend for three additional years. The water taxi service takes up to 12 students per trip from the Village of Opitsaht to their schools in Tofino.
School District 70 secretary-treasurer Lindsay Cheetham said the contract allows for a three per cent annual cost increase to cover inflation.
The contract is for eight trips per day during the school year.
“If there are enough students then the number of trips would increase,” Cheetham said, explaining the school district would have to pay for any extra trips. “We are forecasting 30 students in the first year.”
Cheetham added the reason for eight trips instead of six is because the elementary and high school have different start and end times.
He also said the contract allows for pick-up at three different islands during one trip at no additional cost.
The new contract was initially awarded to West Coast Aquatics last month, but Cheetham explained the company revised their proposal due to an error that company made.
Due to their revision, Tofino Water Taxi was chosen instead.
For the last eight years, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation was contracted to provide water taxi service on the West Coast, which was subcontracted to an individual.
The school district paid $306,000 in the 2009-2010 school year, $410,000 for 2010-2011 and $400,000 for 2011-2012. A meeting between the First Nation band and the school district was supposed to take place last month, but hasn’t yet.
Superintendent Cam Pinkerton had said that the previous water taxi operator was charging per kid instead of per trip, to explain the high cost.
However, he also admitted that the boat was often half full.
The school district spent $1,700 hiring Qualicum Beach-based Woodsgift Enterprises to write the request for proposal for the water taxi and school bus transportation service on the West Coast. Cheetham said hiring a professional to write the RFP was a must.
“It’s not something we come about very often,” Cheetham said about writing an RFP.
“I’ve never done it before and I’m not sure if Jerry [Linning, former school district secretary-treasurer] did it before.
“It’s not easy as it sounds to write something like that.”