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Report offers options on bus system

Bell time changes, charging some students and buying transportation management software are among the recommendations made in a report analyzing Nanaimo school district’s transportation services.

Earlier this fall, the district hired a consulting firm to conduct a review of the bus transportation operations to determine if there are any efficiencies or changes to the current system the district should consider.

Funding shortfalls motivated the move – the district spends about $1.696 million on busing, but is only given $1.225 million by the province to provide the service.

The report by U.S.-based Management Partnership Services Inc. states that the district provides bus services at an average cost with average to above average service levels, but there are opportunities to reduce cost and improve service levels.

The report recommends the district start with reviewing transportation policies and procedures.

Students are eligible for bus service if they live a certain distance from the school, but few students live outside the established walk limits and the presence of empty seats encourages an increase in the number of courtesy riders.

About 1,800 students ride the bus and roughly 22 per cent of those students are what the district calls courtesy riders – students who don’t qualify for bus services because they live within walk limit policies.

Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman, said while the district knows generally how many courtesy riders there are, the district needs a better way of tracking who is actually riding the bus, which is why the report recommends buying transportation management software.

The report recommends consideration of a user-pay system for otherwise ineligible students and greater use of transportation assistance – giving parents a subsidy for driving their children to school.

It also recommends looking at ride time policies – the district has a ride time policy of 30 minutes for elementary students, which consultants deemed “restrictive”, and one hour for secondary students.

Staggering bell times would allow the district to reuse buses for multiple trips each day, but changing these would impact the whole operation of schools, said Reimer.

“It’s not a change you make for the sake of transportation without consulting parents and schools to see what kind of impact the change would have on them,” she said.

The report estimates that a combination of policy and bell time changes with associated routing revisions could result in the reduction of as many of two buses.

A side issue is the current fixed schedule for the Protection Island ferry, which costs the district $179 per day for 15 students.

The report recommends providing students with daily or monthly service tickets instead of paying for special runs for students.

Trustees referred the report to staff for review, with a report back to the board by Feb. 28.

Justin Green, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association, said in some areas, the district already serves two or three schools with one bus and he would have to see what the district proposes regarding staggering bell times.

He hopes policy changes do not result in young students remaining on the bus for 45 minutes or longer.

The transportation review is available at www.sd68.bc.ca.

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