Chi­nook School Divi­sion con­tin­u­ing ef­forts to re­duce bus trans­porta­tion costs

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - Saskatchewan - BY MATTHEW LIEBEN­BERG— mlieben­berg@prairiepost.com

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.”

Photo by Matthew Lieben­berg

Trans­porta­tion and Fa­cil­i­ties Man­ager Kevin Jones presents his re­port to the Chi­nook Board of Ed­u­ca­tion reg­u­lar meet­ing, Oct. 9.

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