The decision to increase how much it costs for an Edmonton Public student to ride the bus is not a decision that I take lightly as a Trustee. It’s expensive to raise kids and adding an additional $1-$5 a month to a family’s budget, can be a burden for some.
There is, however, a reality facing the Edmonton Public school board. As our district grows so too does the cost to operate buses. The opening of new schools, and the wide range of choice within Edmonton Public has meant that more buses are travelling longer distances within the city. On one hand, this is great news as it means more kids are riding the bus which lessens traffic congestion around our schools and is more environmentally friendly. On the other hand, it has created a budget challenge for Edmonton Public schools.
Did you know? Edmonton Public yellow school buses are often the first buses into a neighbourhood? In the last couple of years Edmonton Public has opened schools in neighbourhoods not yet serviced by ETS.
Now, for a bit of background. In May 2018, the board approved a fee increase of five per cent in each year remaining in the term of the current board. At that time, I voted in favour of covering the fee increase for 2018-2019 from EPSB’s surplus as I felt parents had not been given enough notice. What this means is that starting September 2019 bus fees will increase by 10 percent. Here’s a chart explaining the increase.
How does EPSB pay for the buses?
Edmonton Public pays for bussing two ways: funding grants from the province and the fees we collect from families. Another reality? The funding EPSB receives from Alberta Education is based on the district’s enrolment numbers from 2015-2016. Neither the previous NDP government or the current UCP government committed funds for transportation to align with current enrolment numbers. What this means, is that year after year our transportation department faces a huge funding gap. This year that gap is $4 million.
Kudos to transportation staff who have found ways to improve the efficiency of EPSB’s transportation system (savings of $2.2 million since June 2018.)
- negotiating a new contract that will help minimize the fluctuating price of fuel.
- Figuring out shared bus routes with Edmonton Catholic. Right now there are 25 shared routes which saves EPSB about $600,000. More savings could be realized if Catholic and Public students shared the same bus. Alas, we are not there yet.
- A change in some schools bell times which has resulted in more schools sharing bussing and bus routes.
Another fact to keep in mind is that Edmonton Public parents haven’t faced an increase in bus fees since the 2014 – 2015 school year. Fees have been kept low, despite a slow but steady increase in yellow bus ridership and increasing demand from new and developing communities in our city. As well, since 2014 the district has not passed on the increases to ETS passes. That’s an additional $6 per student, per month, that the district has been paying for.
One aspect of the bus fee structure that I support is the idea of “rewarding” families who choose their designated school, in particular during the elementary grades. I am a big supporter of strengthening our local, community schools and the transportation fee structure currently in place offers cheaper fares for those who attend their designated school, or the school closest to their home rather than a school in another part of the city.
One more thing to keep in mind. The increase to bus fees comes at a time when Edmonton Public is re-examining how and where alternative programs are offered in the city. Transportation is part of that discussion as the district must balance the needs of providing bussing to programs that are increasingly farther from where students live. More details on what the district heard from parents and community on alternative programs are expected this Fall.
To watch the full discussion on the board’s decision to increase bus fees click here.
To learn more about how to sign up for bus service with EPSB click here.