Shared bus­ing could save $2.7M: study

Shorter ride times promised for Catholic, pub­lic stu­dents

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREA SANDS

Stu­dents will have shorter bus rides and Ed­mon­ton’s pub­lic and Catholic school districts will save more than $2.5 mil­lion a year un­der a plan to share yel­low school bus ser­vice, says a ma­jor trans­porta­tion study.

The joint fea­si­bil­ity study re­leased Tues­day af­ter­noon rec­om­mended the two school boards share bus­ing by es­tab­lish­ing Al­berta’s first trans­porta­tion con­sor­tium, an in­de­pen­dent en­tity that would run yel­low bus ser­vice for both districts. It would be the first such con­sor­tium in the prov­ince.

Trustees with Ed­mon­ton Catholic Schools and Ed­mon­ton Pub­lic Schools re­viewed the 46-page study Tues­day af­ter­noon dur­ing sep­a­rate board meet­ings. Both boards voted to move ahead with the first phase of the three-phase plan.

The plan will make the Ed­mon­ton’s school bus sys­tem more ef­fi­cient, Catholic school board chair­woman Cindy Olsen said af­ter the vote.

“It will mean greater ef­fi­cien­cies, lower ride time, money saved. It’s a win-win, I be­lieve, for both boards as well as the par­ents and the con­stituents that we rep­re­sent,” Olsen said. It will cost about $2.4 mil­lion to es­tab­lish the new con­sor­tium, in­clud­ing to pay for soft­ware, le­gal and con­sult­ing fees, and to set up an of­fice. The con­sor­tium could roll out fully in­te­grated bus ser­vice by the fall of 2015, the re­port says.

“The ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with a con­sor­tium greatly ex­ceed the costs,” the study says. “In re­view­ing rout­ing ef­fi­cien­cies alone ... in­te­grat­ing rout­ing be­tween the two boards would re­sult in po­ten­tial cost sav­ings of $2.5 (mil­lion) to $2.7 mil­lion on an an­nual ba­sis.”

The op­er­at­ing costs to run one sys­tem in­stead of two would pro­duce even more sav­ings, the study says. That in­cludes spend­ing on salaries and ben­e­fits, train­ing, sup­plies, safety pro­grams and soft­ware li­cences.

That raises ques­tions about whether trans­porta­tion depart­ment work­ers at both districts would shift over to the con­sor­tium and how their pay, ben­e­fits and pen­sion rights would be af­fected, the re­port notes.

School trustees asked district ad­min­is­tra­tors a year ago to ex­am­ine whether Ed­mon­ton pub­lic and Catholic schools could col­lab­o­rate on bus­ing.

They al­ready co-op­er­ate on some yel­low bus ser­vice and on bus­ing for spe­cial needs stu­dents, but pool­ing re­sources through a con­sor­tium is the best way to man­age bud­gets and bus-ser­vice de­mands, the study says.

A con­sor­tium is a “nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion” for both boards, and will serve as a model for other Al­berta school boards, the re­port says. The con­sor­tium would have its own of­fice, and be a sep­a­rate le­gal en­tity with a staff of 24 to 28 full-time em­ploy­ees. It would be gov­erned by a six-mem­ber board, with three rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each school district.

As Ed­mon­ton grows, schools in new neigh­bour­hoods have filled up and stu­dents are bused far­ther to schools with empty spa­ces. That means the districts face ris­ing bus­ing costs; longer bus rides for kids; and the need for more buses, driv­ers, dis­patch­ers and sup­port work­ers, the study says.

The two school districts cur­rently spend a to­tal of $55 mil­lion a year on bus­ing, for both yel­low bus ser­vice and sub­si­dized pub­lic-trans­porta­tion bus passes. The prov­ince cov­ers about two-thirds of that cost through provin­cial grants, and stu­dents’ fam­i­lies pay the rest in bus pass fees.

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