Calgary

Increased fees, reduced service or both? CBE seeks input on yellow bus service

The Calgary Board of Education has launched an online survey, making it clear that its current model of yellow bus transportation is about to change. 

Online survey open until March 18

In January, the trustees directed CBE administration to balance transportation costs using only provincial dollars and user fees. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

The Calgary Board of Education has launched an online survey, making it clear that its current model of yellow bus transportation is about to change. 

The board says it will no longer cover the more than $7-million gap that exists between provincial funding and fees and what the service actually costs.

In January, the board of trustees directed CBE administration to balance transportation costs using only provincial dollars and user fees.

Superintendent of facilities Dany Breton says that basically comes down to reducing or eliminating services, raising fees or doing a combination of both.

"We are doing this so that we can ensure that the dollars that the Calgary Board of Education does receive are focused toward education, toward schools as much as possible, and not being drawn to subsidize the gap that currently exists within the transportation budget," he said. 

Potential impacts

Jennifer Timmonds already pays more than $730 for two of her kids to ride the bus to their designated schools. And with another child entering the system next year, an increase in yellow bus fees would leave her family strapped for cash. 

"Because then all of a sudden there goes extracurriculars, and the [cost of transportation] is so high … and then all of a sudden that affects clothes and shoes and everything else that my kids need," she said.

Breton says the CBE recognizes that the funding provided by the province is targeted specifically toward students who are attending their regular program at their designated school and live farther than 2.5 kilometres from that school.

"Right now, of course, we provide services well beyond that to between 1.6 kilometres and 2.4 kilometres, and we also provide transportation services to many students attending alternative programs," he said.

An example of one of the questions asked in the CBE's survey. (CBE)

Breton says the survey is a chance for the board to better understand what is seen as acceptable by the public in terms of changes and how the changes will ultimately have to be made.

"To get a sense for how that might impact parent choice in terms of whether or not they might start looking to make different decisions — either in terms of how their child is transported to school or maybe even in terms of whether or not they would continue with the alternative program or instead decide to revert to their local community school," he said. 

Specialized transportation still free

The superintendent said that students who require specialized transportation services and supports will continue to ride for free. 

And while the survey is focused on students utilizing regular transportation, the board will also have to look at the level of services being provided to students who require specialized transportation. 

"A little over 50 per cent of the total cost of our transportation budget goes toward those specialized transportation costs," he said. "We do have to look at that and we will be looking at seeing what changes can be made there as well."

The survey is open until March 18.

By April, Breton says, administration will start having some scenarios built out that they can share as a part of the budget that will come forward for approval in May. 

But Breton says that doesn't mean parents will have all the answers by then. 

"It is true that parents won't know the exact impact upon their school and their bus route until such time as they see the routes that are released in the month of August."

Which is another thing that worries Timmonds. 

"That leaves parents scrambling at the last minute," she said. "Parents will plan for one thing but then if it's all decided differently from what they're expecting, it can cause a lot of stress."

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