School bus fees eliminated for some Abbotsford students

Many families will continue to pay for transportation to and from local schools

Some families may no longer have to pay school bus fees this year.

Some families may no longer have to pay school bus fees this year.

Bus fees for some students may be eliminated thanks to an influx of funding from the B.C. government, but hundreds of others will still have to pay to ride.

Last week, the province announced the Abbotsford school district would be eligible for just over $250,000 in funding as part of a $14.7 million program to provide funding for student transportation.

The district had planned to hike fees dramatically to help make up part of an expected $4 million shortfall.

Fees had been set at $300 per student or $500 per family, but the district had planned to raise them by $100 per student/family for in-catchment students and by $300 per student/family for those attending district programs or out-of-catchment schools.

To be eligible for the funds, districts must commit to eliminate fees for busing to their local school.

The funding could allow the district to do away with the fees for in-catchment riders, school district secretary-treasurer Ray Velestuk said. The district had around 1,400 such students last year. But because fees had been expected to contribute around $750,000 in revenue to the district, three times the total of the transportation funding, those attending out-of-catchment schools will still likely have to pay.

That is in contrast to a quote attributed to MLA Mike de Jong in a press release announcing the government funding.

“Abbotsford families will be glad to see busing fees eliminated,” he had said.

Last May, the district noted that transportation was costing the district around $3 million a year, with less than $500,000 collected in fees.

A study showed most buses are less than half full and many riders took the bus despite living within walk limits meant to determine eligibility for bus service.

The move to increase fees and other efficiencies was hoped to reduce the net cost by $400,000. In addition to raising revenue, the increased fees were expected to also make the system more efficient.

As part of the cuts, the district will stop operating routes that currently provide service to students who have chosen to attend a school outside their catchment area, but who don’t attend a district program like French immersion that draws its students from the entire city. That is expected to affect 125 to 175 students.

Walk limits were also reduced, from four to 3.2 kilometres for elementary school students and from 4.8 to four kilometres for middle and secondary students.

The presence of hazardous crossings and other factors are also considered when determining eligibility for service.

Velestuk said in the spring the district expected that the increased fees would cause some to walk to school instead and cautioned that parents were cautioned more cuts could be made.

School district chair Rhonda Pauls said late last week that it was too early to comment on the effect of the funding on the district’s plans.

Other cuts were expected to bring the district’s deficit to around $800,000.