School District 23 considers transportation changes as Central Okanagan busing costs spike

Central Okanagan Public Schools is planning consultations on the future of busing after transportation costs spiked. File / Global News

Families in the Central Okanagan could see changes to their school bus service down the line.

Central Okanagan Public Schools is conducting public consultations on the future of busing after the cost of transportation rose sharply.

A memo to the board of education said transportation costs jumped by 24 per cent in five years.

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Among the possible options to deal with the rising cost are for the district to have more students get to school using public transit, fee changes or changes to eligibility limits

According to the school district, Central Okanagan Public Schools runs the largest busing system in B.C., with 74 buses transporting more than 5,500 students this school year.

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The extensive transportation network comes at a cost of over $4.6-million and the district said only $900,000 of that is covered by fees.

“Currently, the district allocates $3.1-million in operating funding to transportation that it could allocate to other priorities such as educational supports,” a memo to the school board said.

Parents are being asked where they would like to see the district spend its money, and if cuts or higher fees are needed to support transportation, how that should roll out.

Possibilitie presented to parents in a survey include increasing fees for courtesy riders, increasing fees for all riders, eliminating service where there is adequate public transit service or reducing busing service.

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The results of an initial public survey on the issue are expected to be released next week and further consultations are planned.

The school board is expected to make a final decision on any changes in February or early March.

However, secretary-treasurer Ryan Stierman emphasized that the district is not going into the consultations with any preconceived plans.

Spike in transportation costs

A range of different factors are driving costs up for the school district.

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“With fuel costs and the additional routes that need to be added due to how far out our [student] population is now, costs are really climbing at an unsustainable rate,” Stierman said.

He said the district is seeing increased ridership with a growing student population and that there are other challenges, too.

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“With how our communities have expanded we are really finding a lot of demand in areas that area very difficult to service for transportation,” said Stierman.

“More rural areas and more mountainous areas has definitely caused some issues with regards to how costly it is and how efficient our buses can be.”

Financial statistics show insurance and fuel costs have risen sharply for the district over the last five years.

However, the district said it’s also spending more on drivers and maintenance than it did five years ago.