09/29/2014 09:35 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST

Saskatoon buys 10 new transit buses, says lockout of drivers not relevant

SASKATOON - Saskatoon city council, which is in the middle of a labour dispute with its transit drivers, has approved purchasing 10 brand-new Nova buses for $4.63 million.

Bob Howe, director of Saskatoon Transit, says the buses should be on the road by late spring next year.

He says the decision has little to do with the ongoing lockout of the Amalgated Transit Union drivers.

He says the new buses will reduce the chances of a repair backlog next fall and bring the median age of the bus fleet closer to the national average of nine years old.

He says some of Saskatoon’s older buses have more than 1.5 million kilometres and are 20 years old.

Earlier this month, the city cancelled many bus routes just ahead of the new school year, citing a backlog in bus maintenance, an older bus fleet and a shortage of journeyman mechanics.

The city bought 20 used buses from the City of Calgary to help ease the maintenance backlog. Since then 12 buses have been delivered to Saskatoon, with another eight coming soon.

Howe said some buses have come to Saskatoon needing some maintenance.

“Anytime you buy something used there’s a couple of minor things we need to get done before they get on the road,” he said, adding they’re adding some of his favourite buses he used to drive as a former operator. “They’re comfortable, they’re warm and they’re a great unit.”

Jeff Jorgenson, general manager of transportation and utilities, said from an operational standpoint, having a healthy mix of classics and newer, low-floor buses are key to providing reliable service.

“Any municipality that gets a lot of snow it’s well known that a high-floor bus is a better performer in winter conditions,” Jorgenson said. “Every new bus we buy is a low-floor bus and we’re trying to go as much as we can to the low-floor buses, buses with steps just run better on those days.”