Edmonton Journal

Shared busing could save $2.7M: study

Shorter ride times promised for Catholic, public students

- 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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