BY CRAIG GILBERT
Hoping they bought a better level of service, Sudbury city council opted to double their spending on the operation of the downtown transit centreÂ?s customer service kiosk to almost $100,000.
Â?It was unsustainable the way it was running,Â? said Ward 4 Councillor Ted Callaghan. Â?We had to firm up the business in that location, it was impossible to pay minimum wage and get the service we wanted.Â?
ZioÂ?s Tuck Shop, which has been operating the kiosk for about five years, was the only respondent to the call for tenders for the kioskÂ?s operation.
Under the new contract, manager Tony Sharma will be responsible for a $99,600 budget, over twice the $43,200 paid out by the city last year.
A budget reduction option prepared by staff that would see all four municipal museums closed would save the city about the same amount, around $100,000.
The cost increases to $110,000 in 2005, $120,000 in 2006 and tops out at $130,000 in 2009.
A staff report delivered to council indicates it would cost in the region of $30,000 more for city employees to operate the kiosk in 2004. That gap closes toward the end of the contractÂ?s life in 2009, but it never overlaps.
Sharma, who ran for a Ward 4 seat in the November municipal election, said more staff have been hired and trained in the past few weeks in anticipation of the contract approval.
Â?We knew it would get passed because there is a need.Â?
He said with the bigger budget, he has been able to increase his staff compliment from three to 10, and has been able to Â?hand-pickÂ? higher-quality workers.
Sharma wouldnÂ?t say exactly what the workers are paid now, but he indicated it is Â?a lot moreÂ? than the old $7 per hour wage they used to make.
He said the kiosk, which has suffered from high turnover, needs to pay more to attract people that are willing to stay on for a length of time in what has been described as a tough place to operate.
Â?Why would you put up with all the hassles when you could go to McDonaldÂ?s and get paid the same?Â?
Sharma says the increase in pay and number of employees will mean the words Â?I donÂ?t knowÂ? donÂ?t exist inside the glass-enclosed kiosk.
Staff are fully informed about the transit routes, and if they arenÂ?t sure, they have access to a hotline they can phone to find out information.
The real reason for the budget increase is the need to improve the speed of service during the peak days at the change of the month when bus passes are released, he said.
Sharma said one or two people used to service 5,000 riders a shift during rush hours.
Now with three people on during those days, and longer shifts, service is going to be greatly improved.
Â?People are frustrated with the fact they canÂ?t get service quickly and this will change that,Â? he said.
Transit system usage has increased 20 per cent in the last five years, due in large part to a 10 per cent boost after amalgamation in 2001 and the more recent Â?double-cohortÂ? influx of post-secondary students.
Transit manager Roger Sauve said he doesnÂ?t perceive a conflict of interest in awarding the tender to a company that already does business in the transit building.
Â?Anyone could have bid on it Â? there were other bidders for the cafÃ©,Â? he said. Â?Whether it was Sharma or someone else, they would have to meet the requirements of the Request For Proposals. It was competitive, we negotiated it Â? and it is still cheaper than using city staff.Â?
City clerk Thom Mowry said Friday to find out details of the lease agreement with Sharma and ZioÂ?s for the cafÃ©, an application would have to be filed under the Freedom of Information Act.