Marsh Lake parents share concerns, ideas after school bus close calls
Group of concerned residents met with bus drivers and gov't officials Tuesday evening
A frighteningly clear picture of school bus safety in the Whitehorse area emerged Tuesday night, at an emotional but productive meeting of concerned residents in the Marsh Lake community.
The gathering was the result of two recent incidents on the Alaska Highway, one in which a semi-truck clipped a school bus, and another where a car drove past a stopped bus with its lights flashing.
Katharine Sandiford, one of the parents leading the recent push for increased safety, organized Tuesday's gathering to share information among parents, but also to brainstorm solutions.
"Right now, ears are open," she said. "It's a good time for us to meet and move on this."
Around twenty people filled the room at the community centre, and almost every stakeholder on the issue was represented — including parents and a child who rides the bus, two bus drivers and their manager at Standard Bus Yukon, local MLA and Community Services Minister John Streicker, and Nicole Morgan, Yukon's deputy minister of education.
Parent after parent, either in person or through written submissions, shared their stories of near collisions, out of control vehicles, and moments of having to pull their child out of harm's way. There were at least six instances reported at the meeting.
Normalee Craig, the operations manager for the school bus company, told the room she has 19 recorded incidents involving Whitehorse's 43 school bus routes so far this school year, saying those are only the ones where they were able to catch a license plate.
They don't document the others because without the plate information "nothing will happen," she said.
'It plays on your head'
The two local route bus drivers at the meeting, Kirk Porayko and Linda Leduc, each said they've experienced five to seven incidents already this school year.
People listened with tears in their eyes as Porayko explained the lasting trauma each close call leaves with him.
"You get attached to your kids," he said. "It plays on your head: 'What if I didn't move up? Or what if I didn't move over to the left?' He would have plowed on the back of the bus."
Together, the group filled up a whiteboard with ideas for keeping their children safe, including demanding increased RCMP patrols, installing lights at bus stops, moving stops off the highway, providing reflective vests for kids, and installing bigger, solar-powered warning signs for motorists.
They also expressed interest in a public awareness campaign, either as a local mail-out, or from the government itself.
Craig let parents know the RCMP is open to the idea of putting officers and ghost cars on routes with high incident rates. She said they tried it Monday on the South Klondike Highway bus route, which she says has one of the highest rates, but police didn't witness any offences.
Parents also called for better communication from the territory's education department. A few noted that unless their child is on a bus that has been involved in an incident, they never even learn something has occurred. They want the department to inform all parents every time.
Streicker said he was there as their representative within government, and offered to help advocate with Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn, and Minister of Education and Justice Tracy-Anne McPhee.
He said the ministers are concerned and are willing to work with the parents.
Streicker also shared insight into the territory's upcoming review of the Motor Vehicles Act, saying the ability to use dashcams in ticketing and infractions will be evaluated, as will the idea of ticketing vehicles, not just drivers.
Both issues have been obstacles in catching drivers involved in incidents with school buses.
He says they also intend to look into increasing fines and demerit points for these types of offences, similar to what's been done in other jurisdictions.
The meeting ended with a concrete plan to divide items between parents and write a report summarizing the incidents they know about and the solutions they want implemented. They will be asking for a meeting with department officials and Ministers Mostyn and McPhee.