Chinook School Division continuing efforts to reduce bus transportation costs
The Chinook School Division was able to reduce transportation costs while maintaining the school bus fleet age at 10 years old or newer during the past year.
Details about the operation of the transportation department were provided during the presentation of the transportation status report at a regular meeting of the Chinook Board of Education, Oct. 9.
The 2017- 18 transportation budget was $ 9,962,578. The main budget costs were salaries and benefits ($ 4,001,010), operations ($ 4,455,675), and amortization ($ 1,505,893). By the end of August 2018 the budget was underspent by $ 291,971 or 2.93 per cent.
“We're definitely happier with our budget,” Chinook School Division Chief Financial Officer Rod Quintin said after the meeting. “We needed to do something. We had to cut our costs somehow, because we didn't have the resources available to us. So more or less it fell in line with our plan in terms of smaller buses, less consumption, less maintenance, because they're newer. All of that fell in line with our plan.”
Buses drove a total distance of 3,756,819 kilometres during 2017- 18 and transported 3,231 students.
Rural ridership has decreased with 284 students or 13.7 per cent since 2012, but urban ridership for Swift Current has increased with 231 students or 25 per cent.
There have been cost savings due to a reduction of about 13 per cent in the number of rural routes. The number of rural routes have changed from 123 in 2012- 13 to 117 routes in 2016- 17, and then to 108 routes in 2017- 18, which has remained the same for the current school year. The number of urban routes changed from 38 in 2012- 13 to 31 in 2017- 18.
As a result of these changes the average length of rural bus routes increased from 202 in 2012- 13 to 217 in 2017- 18.
According to Quintin the average travel time for students increased about six minutes, but the school division is making progress to reduce the number of routes that are longer than 75 minutes.
The division's policy has set 75 minutes as the limit for trips on rural bus routes.
The number of routes that exceeded that limit increased from seven in 2012- 13 to 18 in 2017- 18, but for the current school year that number has dropped to nine.
“We had some feedback from parents who were on routes that might have been made longer because we were trying to consolidate,” he said. “We may have communities that used to have four bus routes, now have three. So you have to make the routes longer to cover the territory around the catchment, but it wasn't overwhelmingly negative. I wouldn't say it was all positive, but it was an acceptable amount of feedback that we got.”
The school division is also making changes to the bus fleet to operate smaller, more cost effective vehicles on rural routes.
Last year was the second year of the busing solutions project and 17 new buses were purchased.
The 2017- 18 budget included $ 866,000 for the purchase of buses and 12 decommissioned buses were sold for $ 38,000.
The smaller buses are either 24 or 29- passenger vehicles, and can be purchased at a cost of about $ 70,000. The cost of a larger 35- passenger bus is about $ 100,000.
“The ones that we've tend to have migrated to more are the 29- passenger buses as opposed to the larger 35,” he said. “The biggest thing we saw coming is that the emission standards for diesel were going to change in 2020 to a point where it's going to make it almost impossible to run a diesel bus out in the rural areas just because of the emission standards. It was going to drive the cost of those buses up so much. So then we're slowly switching over to gas, because we don't need to comply with the same emission standards.”
Due to the purchase of new buses the average age of the entire bus fleet is currently eight years. The school division used an opportunity to purchase 22 buses from Rilling Bus at a total price of $ 1,938,635. These buses were previously operated by Rilling Bus on contracted bus routes in Swift Current and the majority of the bus drivers were retained.
“The benefits are that we knew all along what the costs were going to be and we knew that we could elimininate the contractor profit piece out of it,” Quintin explained.
“We expect that over time we'll be able to operate it for less of an administrative type cost. We won't need quite as many administrators to run it as it would have needed before. We have a lot of infrastructure here and whether we paid another 25 bus drivers on top of the 900 people that we were paying isn't really going to make a bit of a difference to us. So that cost was easily absorbed.”
An ongoing challenge for the school division is to carry out bus route management within budget limitations while dealing with expectations around ride times. In this regard the increase in the number of country residential stops on the routes around Swift Current are placing more pressure on ride times.
“All of the buses that come into the city from the rural are there primarily because of the high school,” he said.
“So you might have a high school student out at Stewart Valley. Their pick- up time may become earlier because we're stopping along the way to pick up a number of other students in country residential sites. Every stop is going to take a couple or three minutes at least. Even though you might not add miles, you add time and so the time becomes the issue with those students that are the farthest out on those routes that are coming into the city, primarily for the Comp high school students.”
One way to deal with this growing issue is to put more buses on these routes, but the school division cannot do that at the moment due to budgetary restrictions.
“So we just continue to try and find ways to adjust routes to minimize the amount of time that's out there, but it's a problem that I think is going to grow, not diminish,” he said.
“We can definitely see this urbanization and whether it's the city proper or the area around the city, that's what we're seeing and so we need to find a way to service those students.”
Transportation and Facilities Manager Kevin Jones presents his report to the Chinook Board of Education regular meeting, Oct. 9.