Hundreds of school buses could soon be off the road, the Alberta School Bus Contractors’ Association says.
Insurance rates are renewing next month and they are expected to be expensive. Some worry contractors won’t be able to afford the increase.
“Already with a hike of insurance, our company was in debt. Now starting Nov. 1, this second wave of insurance hike will create a deeper debt,” school bus contractor Chantal Frechette said.
She is one of many bus contractors in Alberta who faced high premiums last November.
“Small contractors were hit the hardest. They saw an increase of 358 per cent. They went from approximately $1,200 a bus to $4,300 a bus,” Alberta School Bus Contractors’ Association president Mark Critch said.
With insurance renewals a week away, Frechette expects rates to be even higher.
“We need financial help, and if we don’t receive this financial help, small companies like mine will have to close our doors, and sadly, children will lack transportation to schools,” Frechette said.
Critch said roughly 500 buses could be taken out of use, impacting 15,000 to 20,000 students.
“The rural areas are hit the hardest because that’s where most of your small contractors are out in the rural areas. The metro areas have the large contractors. Their increases have been large but much less than the rural small contractors,” Critch said.
Critch said the association is trying to work with the Alberta government to lower rates but those efforts have gone nowhere.
“The government has a responsibility to step up and to make sure kids can get to and from school safely. They also have a responsibility around regulating the insurance industry,” NDP critic Sarah Hoffman said.
In a statement to Global News, Kassandra Kitz, press secretary for Finance Minister Travis Toews, said: “Alberta schools all have school buses, and commercial insurance is in place for them. Getting kids to school safely is always our number one priority.”
“The education minister’s office has received a request from the Alberta School Bus Contractors’ Association and has responded to the request. Insurance coverage for contracted bus operators has been found for school boards. Insurance will be renewed effective Nov. 1, 2021. As such, no government support will be needed and no disruption to school bus service is expected.
“Insurance premiums have increased for all contracted bus operators, but the biggest increase was for one insurance group due to a high claims history and a decision by their long-term insurer to no longer insure public entities like school boards. Several school boards have provided additional funding to their contracted bus operators to help subsidize the increase in premiums.
“The insurance industry is working proactively to find solutions to attain more affordable premiums, and in the meantime, school bus operators are advised to work with their insurance providers to manage their insurance needs most effectively. We are continually monitoring the issue and looking for alternative solutions to rising insurance costs.”
But Critch said with new rates around the corner, he’s not hopeful change will come in time.
“It seems that no one wants to do something until it’s too late, and in a couple of weeks, it will be too late,” Critch said.