Alberta school jurisdictions will receive an additional $414 million over the next three years to reduce both busing fees and rural ride times, and address inflationary pressures, says the province.
Budget 2023 will fund an additional 100 bus routes serving rural students which is expected to reduce ride times by about nine per cent. Increased funding for driver training will support 1,250 drivers, including 350 new drivers, and increase the driver workforce by six per cent.
Shawn Russell, superintendent of corporate services at Chinook’s Edge School Division, said his division is still waiting for more budget details to determine how routes and ride times will be impacted.
“Our transporation budget has been stressed in terms of meeting the needs that we have in a large, rural school division. At first glance, what they’ve presented in the budget and the details that we’ve received so far, it does look promising,” Russell said.
He said inflation has been a concern which impacts the price of new buses, parts to maintain its bus fleets and fuel costs.
“In order to renew our fleet of buses we buy seven new buses every year and the cost per bus has increased significantly over the last three or four years.”
Chinook’s Edge is the largest rural school division geographically in Alberta. The division maintains and runs 84 of its bus routes, and contracts 32 routes in its northern section to Prairie Bus Lines.
Changes to funding also means that 80,000 additional Alberta students will be eligible for provincial transportation funding.
Currently students must live at least 2.4 kilometres from their designated school to qualify for government-funded busing. Starting Sept. 1, 2024, that distance will be reduced to one kilometre for Grade 1 to 6 students and two kilometres for Grade 7 to 12 students, measured by using the shortest driving route.
At Chinook’s Edge, Grade 1 to 12 students who are eligible for funding pay a $200 busing fee compared to $500 for those who are not eligible.
Russell said many students already pay the higher fee to ride the bus, but across the division it’s estimated that 200 to 300 additional students may take the bus with the new rules.
“Some of our buses have room to accommodate more students already and we may have to look at certain routes to accommodate increased ridership.”
He said although school boards have until September 2024 to implement all the changes, Chinook’s Edge will try and implement them as quickly as possible.
School transportation funding in Budget 2023 includes $93.5 million in 2023-24, $160 million in 2024-25 and $160 million in 2025-26.
Currently, school authorities transport more than 300,000, or roughly 42 per cent, of Alberta students.
About 253,000 students transported for school are eligible for provincially funded transportation services, and just over 47,000 students are transported who are not eligible, usually for a fee.
“With the changes we are making and our increased investment through Budget 2023, the student transportation system will be safer for students, more affordable for families, and provide enhanced funding for our school authority partners,” said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, in a statement.
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