Call it a perk. Call it a brew-ha-ha. Either way, TransLink’s latest big spend is causing quite a stir.

The transit agency is looking for a supplier for enough coffee to keep its 1,700 office staff and management caffeinated for five years.

According to TransLink’s request for proposal, that’s a tall order – some 5,000 pounds of coffee per year. The order also includes 160,000 creamers, 900 one-litre cartons of half-and-half, and 140-million bags of sugar.

And the transit utility even thought of non-coffee drinkers, asking for 30 pounds of decaf coffee and 60,000 bags of orange pekoe and herbal tea.

It works out to about 1,150 free six-ounce cups of coffee per day – about two-thirds of a cup per employee per business day.

Estimating at about $18 per pound, JJ Bean owner John Neate suggested it could cost $90,000 for the coffee, and up to $150,000 per year including the other items.

“Five thousand pounds – that would last us three and a half months,” Neate said, referring to his store on Davie and Homer.

“Considering the amount of employees at TransLink that’s not unrealistic,” he said, adding that other organizations could even order more.

Office staff, stores, security, customer information, admin staff and transit police will be able to drink the coffee at the four main TransLink offices in the Lower Mainland.

But one group of TransLink employees doesn’t get a free brew: bus drivers.

“Our members have to buy our coffee,” said Don MacLeod, the president of the bus driver’s union, CAW local 111.

MacLeod said spending money on free coffee for other employees isn’t the right thing to do when TransLink has just raised fares and is trying to cut costs.

“We’ve seen cutbacks in service hours and the bus system is squeezed to the maximum. I think it sends the wrong message,” he said.

He acknowledged that CAW also pays for coffee for its employees, but it’s not nearly as much as TransLink is spending.

“It’s not thousands of dollars, I know that,” he said.

TransLink spokesman Derek Zabel said the utility is just continuing its practice of providing coffee for employees – a service they expect, he said.

“It’s just the cost of doing business,” he said.

David Hannah at SFU's Beedie School of Business said providing coffee to employees can actually improve their productivity.

“If you’re an employer and you think, if I provide coffee here, someone doesn’t have to walk down the block to buy it and take 20 minutes out of their work day to get coffee. So I’m saving those 20 minutes per employee per day,” he said.

He said it’s a fairly common practice among employers, though the perk is often the first to go when companies start to cut back.

“What [TransLink is] doing isn’t unusual, but they’re under more scrutiny than your average operation,” he said.