Nanaimo-Ladysmith trustees have voted unanimously against a staff recommendation to eliminate a bus route in the Rutherford-Frank J. Ney schools area.
A Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools staff report cited transportation budget deficits as high as $288,000 over the past four years, with shortfalls covered by reallocation of money. Staff suggested Route 16 be discontinued in 2021-22, which would save the district $50,000 annually, but Charlene McKay, trustee and school board chairperson, introduced a motion that will see it retained provided ridership doesn’t drop below 50 per cent capacity.
At the March 3 business committee meeting, McKay said she recognized that the route was brought on as “a component” of the closure of Rutherford Elementary School, which shuttered in 2018.
“One of the things that always felt a little bit different about this route for me was that, when we did active transportation committee work, a potential bus route consideration by SD68 was one of the recommendations that came out of that [plan]…” said McKay. “It is what was identified as something that would work for the communities that were impacted.”
Prior to the meeting, Rob Zver, education support workers’ union (CUPE 606) president, told the News Bulletin that ridership numbers for the year aren’t reliable due to the pandemic, but district facilities, including Rutherford, will temporarily house students during construction projects, which may lead to increases in ridership. There could also be increased ridership in the future, he said.
“Nanaimo’s booming again,” Zver said at the meeting. “Ridership may be down now, but … populations are going [up].”
The school district transportation policy dictates that students attending class in their catchment area are eligible to catch the bus if they live outside of four kilometres from school and are between Grades 1-3. The requirement for Grade 4-12 students is 4.8 kilometres. Students residing within walk limits, or courtesy riders, can take the bus if there is space.
In 2019-20, Route 16 saw no registered eligible riders and 79 registered courtesy riders, according to the report. There are no eligible riders and 59 courtesy riders registered for 2020-21.
According to the report, the area, which includes Hammond Bay Road, has sidewalks, crosswalks and is a three-kilometre walk. It is also along a public transit bus route and has street lighting, safety features not afforded to students on other routes.
The 2019-20 school year saw a $22,343 surplus, but that was due to cost savings from COVID-19 pandemic-related school shutdowns, according to the report.
There has been a 29 per cent decrease in students using the bus from 2019-20 to this year, the report said.
The recommendation will be forwarded to the school district board meeting on Wednesday, March 10.