School buses on the chop block

Trustees ask TransLink for more rural routes as school districts consider cutting school bus routes

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District is considering eliminating regular busing and has asked TransLink to help service more rural routes.

However, the regional transportation authority claims it can’t comply unless it gets more money.

The school board send a letter to TransLink asking what level of transit service it could provide to students if the district, looking for $1.7 million in budget cuts, eliminates busing.

School board chair Mike Murray interprets a response from TransLink to mean that it won’t have the resources to help unless the ongoing transportation plebiscite passes.

In its last budget, the board added school bus fees, set at $215 for an individual student. This year it is again looking for cuts, and Murray said eliminating busing is one option being considered. It could save the district $700,000 per year.

Murray noted the vast majority of students either walk to school or get rides from their parents.

Eliminating regular busing would impact 369 registered student riders. When the school bus fees were added last year, 100 riders stopped taking the bus, making the cost per student almost $1,900 per year.

Murray said the district has no legal obligation to provide bus service, but the board will not cut bus service for special needs students – four buses and a taxi serve 30 special needs students, at an annual cost of $250,000.

He said the district has a moral obligation to these students, if nothing else.

TransLink told the board that it is not allowed to provide exclusive school bus service. The Motor Vehicle Act states that school trips can be provided only if is not an exclusive school-specific service.

“Any of our transit services must be a public route for use by all customers, not just students,” said the written response from Daniel Freeman, transit network manager.

Murray acknowledged that TransLink may be little help getting young students to school.

“Obviously, that’s an issue for some people – putting small kids on a city bus,” he said.

Freeman said the transportation agency wants to instill in students a habit of using sustainable transportation modes, and could provide additional service on its existing routes – but there isn’t enough money.

“Our ability to provide additional service currently is limited by funding availability, and so any increase in existing service requires a re-allocation of service,” said Freeman.

Cutting student transportation is one of many unpalatable options the board faces in its budget process this year, said Murray.

“We’re not at the point of making that decision. We want to hear from the public.”

That will happen at a public meeting April 15,, when the board will hear reaction to budget cut proposals. The meeting will be held at Maple Ridge Secondary cafeteria from 6-9 p.m.

The public meeting will be sandwiched between two board meetings dealing with the budget. The document, with proposed cuts, will be presented to the board on Wednesday, and on April 29 the board will approve its final budget balancing measures.

Murray said the response from TransLink has also been forwarded to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows city halls.

“If we’re forced to make the choice of eliminating busing, we hope they will help us to lobby TransLink.”