May 19, 2011 |

Town shuttle changes hands; $1 fee to be charged

Northland Excursions will provide 2011 cruise visitor shuttle services following Haines Borough Assembly approval on May 10. As of this week, though, passengers would be charged a $1 fee.

The business and Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) submitted bids of $60 per hour to run a shuttle from the Port Chilkoot Dock.

The assembly approved awarding the borough’s 2011 shuttle contract to Northland on a 5-1 vote, with member Scott Rossman opposed. At the time of the vote, Northland proposed a fee of $1 a person per day for a 46-passenger, 2000 Thomas Saf-T-Liner bus designed for tours.

SEABA, which has offered the shuttle four years, used a 44-passenger, 1986 GMC bus that was free for passengers, and would continue to be free under their proposal.

"We’ve re-painted our bus for this year, hoping we would get the contract again," said Shawn McNamara of SEABA. "Had we known that you were going to allow us to charge for the service again, we would have purchased a new bus that would look better, because we understand that’s the first thing the tourists see when they get off the ship and the dock."

SEABA’s proposal noted it has received $60 per hour from the borough the last three years for the shuttle, to pay for fuel, insurance, driver and other operational costs.

During public comments after the assembly vote, Adam Patterson of Northland said he would waive the $1 fee, but this week he said the $1 charge is back in place. Patterson said running the numbers showed a free service "just doesn’t work" at the current borough payment rate of $60 per hour.

Patterson said he still is looking for ways to offset the cost so rides can be free.

"I’d rather have a free shuttle," he said. "It makes a lot more sense."

Patterson said he has experience providing a shuttle for Cruise West in 2008 and 2009.

Jila Stuart, borough chief fiscal officer, said cruise ship head tax funds have helped the borough support a free shuttle in the past.

"I just wanted to put out there that maybe it’s possible to negotiate with the selected bidder to eliminate the dollar fee, if that was the will of the assembly," Stuart said at the meeting. "These people pay this head tax, and some of it goes into infrastructure and some of it goes into administration, and that’s a nice, concrete service that they get, to get this free shuttle."

Tanya Carlson, tourism director, said she recommended Northland due to bus quality.

"The amount to the borough is the same either way," Carlson said. "We’re in the process of trying to acquire more cruise ship traffic, and this shuttle for many visitors is going to be the first impression of the Haines community to these people who have never been here before, and I just thought it should be the best quality that we could get."

She said "free is always better," but a $1 rate would be lower than other Southeast ports.

"Although running a cruise ship shuttle may not be a huge profit opportunity for either company, we cannot expect the best service with little or no revenue on their end," Carlson wrote in a memo. "Fuel prices are going up and are expected to hit new highs this summer. One dollar is not a lot to ask, particularly compared to other Southeast communities."

According to the borough’s request for proposals, "The successful respondent will be provided signage and a designated parking spot at the dock during visits of (cruise) ships, and be authorized to charge passengers the fee included in their proposal."

Patterson said the Northland proposal was based on a SEABA bid from a few years ago, "just to be competitive."

"The bus is such an important element of the Haines Shuttle contract because it reflects the attitude of the community towards this industry," Patterson wrote in the proposal. "A high-end, luxurious shuttle will help strengthen and complement this new presence and represent a significant change in attitude towards the cruise ships that call into Haines."