Some Chilliwack families’ back-to-school budgets will include bus fees this year.
The school board voted to bring back bus fees this April, with those fees starting in September. Families using the services will have to pay between $215 to $700 for the year, depending on their individual circumstances. Those fees should be paid as soon as possible, says the district, although there is no definite deadline. Parents are being asked to register their children online, so that final adjustments can be made to the school bus routes.
Once a child is a registered rider, he or she will be issued a personalized bus pass through their school.
Bus services have been cancelled or had fees attached in several B.C. school districts over the last year, as districts struggle to balance their budgets. Abbotsford has introduced bus fees, while Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows cut services entirely, beginning in 2016.
This is not the first time the Chilliwack board has decided to recoup bus costs with a user fee. Bus fees were in place as recently as 2012, when they were scrapped by the board.
The fees only cover a small portion of the total cost of transportation. The district receives $2.3 million in provincial funding for student transportation costs, but spends about $2.7 million annually getting kids to and from school. Collecting a annual ridership fees is expected to fill the $400,000 gap in the budge.
At the time of voting, the board also expected that some parents would chose to not use the services, which would result in fewer buses to operate.
Gerry Slykhuis, secretary-treasurer for the School District 33, said that they are hearing mixed reviews from parents regarding the fees, now that the time has come to collect payments.
He said they’ve heard “only a few complaints so far, plus a few that are understanding of the need to do this.”
Bus service is not a blanket service available to all students.
Several schools have a catchment area that is within the district’s “walk limit,” which is 3 km for K to Grade 6 students and 4 km for higher grades. FG Leary, Little Mountain, Strathcona, Central, Bernard, Tyson and Watson elementary all fall within that limit, as so AD Rundle, Chilliwack and Vedder middle.
Vanessa Campbell-Reid’s children attend FG Leary. She says she would love to send them on the school bus, both for the experience, and to help de-congest the school’s very small parking lot.
“(It’s) very frustrating because there is very limited parking and it causes havoc every day,” she says. “Not to mention the safety of the kids and pollution with all those vehicles.”
Other families are only partially served by the bus system, because their children are courtesy riders or because they live in a less populated, rural area.
Angela MacKinnon-Westrop lives along Chilliwack Lake Road, and her four children travel into Vedder as courtesy riders. Their morning bus ride is 40 minutes long, coming in just under the 45 minute maximum riding time the district has in place. But the ride home would be one hour and twenty minutes, including two separate trips up Promontory. For that reason, they are not allowed to ride home.
Her family’s extenuating circumstances are just one example of how the district is being flexible with parents. Because service is only available one way, they only will have to pay half of the fees.
Concessions will also be made for families who have paid the annual fees, and then move to an area where it’s not needed. In that case, Slykhuis says, a rebate would be issued. And for families who find themselves needing bus service much later in the year, fees will be prorated.
Fees also will not be charged to families that can demonstrate a financial hardship.
A single eligible rider fee is $215, and families with two or more eligible riders are capped at $430. Courtesy riders will now pay $350, to a family cap of $700.
As one commenter on social media pointed out, that’s a rate of .61 cents per ride, for eligible riders. For courtesy riders, it breaks down to just under a dollar.
For more information on eligibility criteria, fees, and to see what school catchment you live in, visit the school district website and click on bus registration.