The new bus fees in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district have created hardship for families struggling to come up with fees up to $1,664 before Aug. 19.
One family is trying to fit that bill into the budget to get four children to Garibaldi secondary and Webster’s Corners elementary.
Leann Beadell is a mother of five, and four of her kids are still attending school in the district. The fifth has expenses for university. They live in Silver Ridge, 7.8 kilometres from Garibaldi.
She works full-time managing a Disney Store in Vancouver, and her husband works six days a week in commercial construction, working long days. They are not able to give their kids rides to school. There is no public transit available, and it takes her kids more than an hour and half to walk to school.
Beadell argues that the district’s new rates, which have risen to $416 from $215 per student, cannot fairly be based on public transit fares, as district staff said.
TransLink offers an all-day service, and is available on weekends, she points out.
“We can’t use the school buses more than two times per day.”
And, she said, School District No. 42’s rates are much higher than what neighbouring districts are charging:
• Mission charges $200 per student, with a fee schedule rising to $400 maximum for four or more;
• Chilliwack charges $194 per student, and $387 for two or more;
• Langley charges $250 per student, and $525 per family;
• Abbotsford charges $400 per student, and $600 per family;
• Surrey has no charge if for students over 4.8 km. Courtesy riders are charged $30 per month, and $15 per month for siblings.
Beadell said the province should establish limits for walking distances and school bus fees that are uniform across the province. She also said the district should offer a payment plan, and restore a family rate.
Jaime Lenz, a mother of four, is also feeling the pinch.
“I did pay $515, now it is $1,660. As a point of reference, my property taxes are $1,869, and they are due a month before I have to pay the bus bill.
“The district is setting this pilot project up to fail …” she said.
Thornhill resident Sara Eales has three children riding the bus, and they live 5.8 km from school. She and her husband both work, and have relied on a school bus since the area’s elementary school was closed.
“I have been paying $530 a year for the past two years. It feels a little unfair, as my kids could have walked to a school in our neighbourhood, which is now closed. But we have no other option, so we just paid it,” she said.
This year, she faces charges of $1,248 for her three children to catch the bus.
“This rate that the school district is offering is unbearable for most families, and it is the highest compared to any nearby districts,” she said.
“We had an established community, we had a school. We had that taken away, forced to move from school to school and now asked to pay ridiculous prices to get our kids to school safely,” she said. “We all know that developing Albion without the proper infrastructure was poor planning on the city’s part. Closing a perfectly good school in a developing area was poor planning on the school district’s part. Our children and our community must now pay for their mistakes.”
When the district passed its new “pilot” busing system for the 2016-2017 school year, there was much debate about whether there should be a reduced rate for families. In the past, the board had charged $214 for the first two children, and $100 for the third and more in one family.
Beadell would have been paying $628 under that rate.
Trustee Korleen Carreras noted that while the fees were doubling for most bus families, those with more three or more children would unfairly” find their bus fees more than doubling.
“I would like to do something for families with three-plus children,” she said. “It’s not a huge amount of money [for the board].
“It’s unfair for people with three or four children,” she added.
There were 18 such families using the bus service last year.
The board voted down her motion to offer those families some relief. But trustees said staff should have latitude in dealing with payment schedules, and the board’s hardship policy should address the issue.
Thursday, Carreras said the families should contact school district staff.
The new $260,000 pilot system replaces the $650,000 program that the board eliminated.
UPDATE: The latest information from the school board is that the deadline for registering is July 31. Payment is due Aug. 19 unless other arrangements are made. There is no monthly payment plan option, but families experiencing financial hardship can contact the transportation department at 604-466-6236 to make alternate payment arrangements.
The district has put up a list of frequently asked questions on the transportation page to give parents additional info. www.sd42.ca/bus-routes