Why we are in crisis mode.
Approximately 10 years ago, Alberta Education removed all fuel funding from the government grant and it was at the expense of all school bus contractors in the Province. Sicne that time there has been a 3 % increase to rural school bus routes. In 2019 the government grant funding was frozen with an additional increase of 5% added for 2020-2020. For the 2021-2022 school year the funding is the same as in 2020-2021 with no increase for growth. The Alberta School Bus Contractors are at the mercy of school divisions to recognize the increasing cost of operations and provide that funding. Most divisions have not forwarded the 5% increase to the bus contractors, siting the need to keep the money for anticipated growth.
Alberta Education created a Student Transportation Task Force (STTF) in May of 2020 to look at the transportation grant. They looked at how the grant is done and the amount of funding provided to determine whether or not it was adequate. The task force met with many school divisions and listened to the issues.
The STTF completed their mandate as of December 2020 and the document was released May 17, 2021. The STTF has set up a team of auditors to audit 15 different school divisions between now and September to see if those school divisions are operating efficiently. Many school division employees are on vacation during this time period and once August 15th hits, are too busy to be able to be audited. Anything that has to do with funding will be referred to that group however the process of their audit teams and then subsequent report and creating a different method of funding we know is a long process. We have bus contractors who need financial help now, not a year from now.
School bus contractors have incurred significant cost increases over the past few years, with little to no revenue increase to offset these costs to ensure we can continue providing this essential service. Below are some examples of the larger increases we have been faced with:
Training costs due to the MELT program have increased by approximately 300%. Drivers’ medicals, registration, and testing have increased along with this.
The cost of parts for repairs is now up
15% from last year.
School divisions do not wholly cover COVID-19 costs, and drivers who are required to be in isolation due to close contact with a positive student must have their immediate wages covered or it is unlikely that they will return to the job.
Due to the global pandemic, there are no field or charter trips as an additional revenue source, which previously helped offset indirect costs.
National Safety Code audit costs.
A 358% increase in insurance rates for small contracted bus operators was implemented in November 2020. The increase in rates is out of the bus contractor’s control, and it occurred mid-year in the contracts. No other insurance providers are willing to insure operators with less than 25 bus routes, leaving small contractors with no option. In addition to this, large contractors have had insurance increases of over 200%. Under the new insurance agreement, contractors will no longer be permitted to drive for various school divisions as of November 1, 2021 and all buses must be equipped with camera systems and GPS systems that are unfunded.