Maple Ridge school board reinstates old bus rates

MLA making announcement Wednesday 9 a.m. at constituency.

The school bus system in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be much the same as it was last year, and the education ministry is set to make an announcement regarding transportation.

Some of the parents who have been lobbying for restored bus service in School District No. 42 were invited to Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton’s office on Wednesday morning for a 9 a.m. announcement.

“It will be impacting our school district, and it’s good news,” said Dalton.

He also praised the district for restoring bus fees to what they had been prior to budget cuts this year.

“I think that’s good. We have provided the funding, and it’s a good move on the part of the school board,” said Dalton.

The board had eliminated regular bus service in September, in order to shave a $650,000. But when the province restored $25 million in funding to school districts on May 31, the board announced that it would take $260,000 from its share of $630,000 to create a new, more efficient, school bus pilot project.

If it had gone ahead, the pilot would have seen the rates rise to an annual flat fee of $416 per student, with no breaks for families with more than one child. It would have been the most expensive school bus system in the province.

Courtesy riders – children who live within walk limits but are still willing to pay for bus service – would not have been allowed.

But on Aug. 4, the board of trustees voted to restore the previous rates of $215 per rider for the first two, and $100 for the third or more children from the same family. There is a hardship policy for parents who cannot afford the charges.

The district also changed the system to allow courtesy riders, for a fee of $315 per pupil, where spaces are available. The new system will give priority to courtesy riders who are younger, and those who live farthest from their schools.

A new deadline of Aug. 19 has been set for parents to register for bus service.

Anita Brierley, one of the bus parents who lobbied the board for changes, said the restored system is not perfect, and some parents are complaining that their children will face one-hour bus rides each way with the new routes. But she was not prepared to criticize the board for that.

“It’s better than nothing, and in their defence, one of our recommendations when they cancelled the routes was to combine them, because it’s more efficient and cost effective,” she said.

She also said the extra $100 charge to courtesy riders is fair.

“In the end, they did the right thing, and I’m grateful for that,” said Brierley.

Pascale Shaw also lobbied for restored service.

“I’m really grateful that they listened to us and made these changes.”

However, she said because the board announced the cancellation of bus service more than a year ago, there are parents who have moved their families, registered their children in new schools and made other arrangements, so the number of bus students has dropped.

She said parents will continue to ask the provincial government for guaranteed service levels, including shorter walk limits, and dedicated transportation funding that cannot be reallocated at the discretion of local school boards.

“We’re not done,” said Shaw.