By Jensen, Randy on May 15, 2020.
Lethbridge-East MLA Nathan Neudorf is excited to get started on his work as the chair of the Alberta government’s new student transportation task force, and acknowledges the challenges ahead to come up with potential models for a more cost-efficient, safe and reliable busing network in the province.
Rural school divisions, particularly, experience keen challenges in this respect, with large portions of their operating budgets tied up in providing school bus transport through isolated, spread out and sparsely populated regions.
“The difference between transportation needs in an urban centre and one in a rural centre can vary greatly,” said Neudorf. “In urban centres it is more about the distance from the school and cold in the winter, that type of thing, and safety; whereas in the rural areas a lot of it would centre around the student and the time spent on the bus. Some of them are approaching an hour or more.
“So these are very different needs for the same kind service. And one of the things I am hoping our panel can do is come with an open mind, and realize whatever plan we come up with has flexibility to meet different needs in different regions, and I think that will be the greatest challenge. It’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all kind of solution.”
Neudorf and his panel will meet with school divisions, parents and school bus transportation companies across the province to attempt to solve the equation of reducing costs while still delivering safe and timely bus service for students.
“This is a major cost for some school divisions, and yet they can’t just say, ‘cut it,'” stated Neudorf. “Or just don’t have it. That is not a viable option so we are going to have to be very creative and look at some things closely. The crux of the issue is it needs to balance cost and student safety. How do we manage those costs over time? That’s why (the Ministry of Education) wanted to break that out from a budget, and have a little bit of a deeper dive into this one significant issue which really affects every region of the province.”
Neudorf hoped to meet the deadline of Aug. 31 to bring back some recommendations for the 2021-22 school year, but acknowledged it may take a little bit longer due to the lingering effects of the COVID-19 crisis making it difficult for task force members to reach every school division in person, forcing them to rely on virtual means of contact for the moment. He said what was important was results, at the end of the day, and not necessarily meeting a deadline.
“We really just want to take the time to do it right, and get feedback not only from school boards but from parents, and even bus drivers,” he said. “We just want to do this well.”
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