Chilliwack school bus system under review

Chilliwack trustees vote for outside consultant to review the transportation system, in an effort to make the service more affordable.

Bus service has been cut in a number of school districts in B.C. to save money, but that’s not yet an option in Chilliwack.

Instead, the school board has voted in favour of an outside consultant reviewing their transportation system, in an effort to make the service more fiscally feasible.

The board of trustees approved the hiring of an outside consultant whose task would be to perform a comprehensive review of the transportation system. The report would come at a cost of about $25,000, as outlined in a staff report presented to the board on Tuesday night.

Some of the items secretary treasurer Gerry Slykhuis would like reviewed include current bus routes and potential for growth, which if any services should be curtailed or terminated, what could be added to the current service and an evaluation of current policies, software, fleet, and communication systems, among others.

The Chilliwack School District spends $400,000 more than its $2.3 million funding provided by the provincial government. They shuttle about 3,000 students over 5,000 kilometres a day, aboard 35 school buses.

One of the burdens on the system is the practice of allowing courtesy riders on bus routes that aren’t filled to capacity. Once the service is offered to those riders, it’s difficult to take it away from families who have come to rely on it.

“I get a lot of calls from parents whose children are no longer courtesy riders,” trustee Dan Coulter said.

Slykhuis agreed it can be troublesome.

“It’s a courtesy the first year but it becomes essential in the following years, and that does create problems,” he said.

But the district is hoping an independent review will look at a number of ways to streamline services and bring them closer to budget. Trustee chair Silvia Dyck noted that the transportation department has been operating over budget since the early 2000s. There are other districts in worse shape, she said, and in places like Delta and Coquitlam the service has been nixed completely.

There had been some public discussion about outsourcing bus service, but Slykhuis said it’s not an option on the table right now.

“We are not looking at contracting out (transportation),” he said. “That’s a cheap way of doing efficiency.”

Trustee Heather Maahs suggested that the school bus system should “be working in tandem” with BC Transit. Slykhuis said that would be something that the consultant would include in the final report, possibly. The request for proposals will be placed on BC Bid.