Tallus Ridge students have been left out in the cold by the restrictions on available school bus seats caused by COVID-19.
Jason Ritchie, a parent in the West Kelowna neighbourhood, said transportation options for students trying to reach Mount Boucherie Secondary are limited now that previous access to courtesy school bus seats has been eliminated by the school district.
With no bus route for their kids, Ritchie said parents must resort to ride-sharing, changing work schedules and even using taxi service to get their kids to school on time.
He said a petition calling for a solution received 30 signatures from neighbourhood residents.
In his presentation to the Central Okanagan Board of Education on Wednesday (Sept. 30), Ritchie used the example of what his daughter faces.
Going to school, it is a 1.25-kilometre walk down a steep sidewalk, cross a busy intersection with no crosswalk, and another 200-metre hike on a gravel shoulder to reach the transit bus stop.
She then gets a 1.5 km ride to the main bus drop in front of Bylands on Highway 97, then faces another 1.25 km walk to school where no sidewalks exist in some areas.
The trek takes 45 minutes to complete and there is little leeway for being late.
To head home, Ritchie’s daughter faces a 10-minute walk to transit stop at 4 p.m., a 49 minute bus ride that winds around West Kelowna before reaching her destination, then a walk back up the Tallus Ridge hill to her home.
It is a two-hour venture from the time she is dismissed from class.
“In total, she would lose almost three hours a day using this route which is not a viable option,” he said.
Ritchie acknowledged the school district is hampered by financial funding restrictions for school busing imposed on local school boards, along with seat reductions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic health safety protocols set by the provincial government.
“What we need to also do is demand that the provincial government places the monies they took out of busing to spend elsewhere…get back this funding into school district coffers,” he said.
School board chair Moyra Baxter said the previous Liberal provincial government cut funding for school busing, which led the school district to charge student bus fees to off-set the reduced funding to maintain the service at current levels.
“This is a real dilemma for families and we understand that,” Baxter said.
Trustee Lee-Ann Tiede said the school bus funding issue is on the agenda for the upcoming B.C. School Trustees Association meeting to discuss advocacy priorities going forward.
“It’s an issue and we do take it seriously,” Tiede said.
Trustee Norah Bowman added she favours no school busing fees and service being enhanced, otherwise the government is simply downloading that cost on to working families.
It was also suggested the transit bus route 28 bus pickup time at 3 p.m. might be adjusted to 3:15 p.m. to allow Tallus Ridge students a more timely and direct option to get home, something the trustees asked school district staff to follow up on with Kelowna Regional Transit.
Trustees also questioned why over the years subdivisions have been approved in Kelowna and West Kelowna without requiring developers to include sidewalks.
“That’s not something that you see allowed in the big city,” Baxter added.