Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ trustees defeated a proposal to implement a $40 administration fee for riding the school bus.

Trustees revisited a motion that was deferred from their May meeting at their June 14 meeting that recommended the school district institute a $40 annual administration fee for all students who register and reside inside the walk limits to school.

When staff brought the recommendation forward earlier in the year, they said a number of students were registered to ride the school bus on various routes but were not regular riders, causing an “administrative burden” particularly at the beginning of the school year.

According to NLPS, last school year there were 2,108 registered riders, excluding accessible bus riders, but only an average of 858 daily riders.

Feedback collected during a public consultation held in early April indicated a significant lack of support for charging a fee.

A number of trustees spoke against the fee, saying it would create a burden to families, even with plan including the provision of a waiver for anyone who was unable to pay the fee.

Trustee Greg Keller asked whether there was a financial cost to the school district of students signing up and not riding the bus, but staff said they had not calculated a specific cost. Keller followed up to clarify what the overall impact of registered riders not being regular users was.

“We end up saving a seat for a student who rides very infrequently – in other words we believe the bus is full but it runs below capacity and it doesn’t give the opportunity for other people to ride,” NLPS’ executive director of facilities and planning, Pete Sabo, responded, adding that it minimizes the school district’s ability to adjust bus run times or consolidate routes.

Staff memos and presentations on the proposed fee have not mentioned if there have been families who have wanted to sign their children up for the school bus but have been unable to due to bus capacity being oversubscribed.

According to the district, last school year the Gabriola route to the ferry terminal had an average of 17 and 19 per cent ridership on the morning and afternoon runs, respectively, compared to registration making it the bus route with the lowest ridership percentage in the district.

The bus to Gabriola Elementary had an average of 33 per cent ridership on both the morning and afternoon runs compared to registration.

While the proposed fee was defeated, the school district intends to monitor ridership of registered students more closely as empowered by the district’s transportation administrative procedure (AP) 512.

For registered students, the AP stipulates they “must use school bus transportation regularly; otherwise their seat will be re-allocated or service to that bus stop may be eliminated.”

Staff said this aspect of the AP has never been utilized for the Gabriola route as space availability has never been an issue.

The AP states that students whose ridership falls below 50 per cent will be reviewed by the district and termination of seats could follow.

Local News