Some Vernon students might have to walk to school or get an alternate ride if courtesy riders are removed from the school bus system. (Morning Star file photo)

Courtesy riders could get boot from North Okanagan buses

Proposed changes would most impact Vernon’s French Immersion students, among others

Hundreds of students could be removed from the school busing system if some proposed changes are brought on board.

The Vernon School District board is looking at possibly removing routes that are not serving eligible riders.

This change would result in approximately 637 courtesy riders stranded. Meanwhile, many eligible riders would experience improved school arrival and departure times.

The information was looked at, but no decisions have been made following a study that was completed in December 2019 to determine the effects of implementing a routing system to provide service to currently registered eligible riders based on district policies.

Many parents within the district are concerned will be bringing the topic up at upcoming school board meetings ahead of the budget’s finalization. The next meeting is slated for Wednesday, March 11, but the topic of transportation is not on the agenda.

“From what I understand, each year they’ve been trying to cut the courtesy riders but they’ve deferred it,” said Dawn Ansdell, a Beairsto parent and member of the school and district’s parent advisory council.

She will be raising the topic at the meeting and pushing for a policy change, or at least for the board to take a closer look at the numbers.

“It’s going to impact a lot of people,” said Ansdell, noting the largest impacts will be felt at Beairsto and Seaton, where most students are courtesy riders.

She said those rides could mean the difference between taking French Immersion or not.

“One parent even wrote to me and said busing is the difference between me being able to work full time to me working casual.”

There are currently 1,021 courtesy riders in the district and 2,019 eligible riders, according to student registrations from Dec. 9, 2019.

Removing courtesy riders would result in an estimated reduction of 13 route hours at approximately $15,000/route hour, according to a recent study. That would save the district around $195,000 a year.

If courtesy riders were removed, the largest impact would be felt at Beairsto Elementary, where 219 students rely on those courtesy rides. Bearisto is followed by W.L. Seaton, which has 127 courtesy riders.

Clarence Fulton has 57 courtesy riders, Harwood has 54, BX has 50, Alexis Park has 35 and Vernon Secondary and Silver Star have 33 and 22 respectively.

The remaining courtesy riders attend Mission Hill, St. James, Hillview, Charles Bloom, Okanagan Landing and the Alternate Learning Program.

Courtesy riders are considered those whose home address is within 2.4 kilometres from school.

Courtesy rider fees of $300 were implemented during the 2018-19 school year and were reduced for the current school year to $175 when a $25 registration fee was introduced for all riders.

READ MORE: Back to school in Vernon drives bus fee upset

A report from the manager of transportation Robyn Stephenson, in December 2019, states 87 per cent of courtesy rider fees were paid by Dec. 12, 2019, amounting to $109,820, with 13 per cent ($24,457) outstanding.

At that time, 77 per cent of eligible riders’ fees ($32,870) were paid, while 23 per cent ($11,900) was still outstanding.

Staff are looking to have service removed for 476 registered students whose fees are still not paid.

“Students considered courtesy riders can’t be provided with a ride because we give first priority to a registered rider,” Stephenson said. “The transportation staff are trying to clean this up so they can offer rides to courtesy riders if space is available.”

There has already been frustration voiced to the staff from people who can’t get courtesy rides when the bus is half empty.

Meanwhile, Stephenson noted registration, bus passes and fees have reduced eligible riders by 750 between June and September in 2019.

READ MORE: Some kids won’t be on board Vernon school buses in new year


@VernonNews
jennifer@vernonmorningstar.com

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