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GSACRD bus fees to soar

$313 hike for many urban families
2711 BusFees schoolbus BY 2942
NO MORE FREE RIDES – GSACRD trustees voted Monday to restore bus fees for students who live 2.4 km or more from their schools. Affected parents will now have to pay $255 or $313 per student instead of $0.

Many St. Albert and Sturgeon Catholic families will get a surprise bill for up to $313 this month, now that the Catholic school board has brought back bus fees for more than 1,000 students.

Greater St. Albert Catholic trustees voted 6-1 at their regular board meeting Nov. 25 to reinstate bus fees this year for students who live 2.4 km or more from their designated schools (Trustee Noreen Radford opposed).

The province used to provide partial funding to bus students who live 2.4 km or more from their designated school – the so-called walk limit – with boards charging fees to cover the rest of the cost of busing. The former NDP government changed this to full funding in 2017, enabling these students to ride the bus for free. GSACRD has not charged those students bus fees ever since.

The current UCP government has moved back to partial funding for these students, which for GSACRD means a cut of $407,000. To make up for that cash, the board moved to restore bus fees for students who live beyond the walk limit.

Instead of riding for free, students who live beyond the walk limit will now pay $255 for an annual pass in rural areas and $313 in urban ones – about 16 per cent more than they did when fees were last charged in 2015-16. Fees for students within the walk limit and the family rate (which applies to all students) are unchanged.

GSACRD superintendent David Keohane said in an email some 1,633 riders would have to pay these new fees, or about 67 per cent of the district’s bus population.

Transportation supervisor Lauri-Ann Turnbull said these fees would be retroactive to the start of the 2019-20 school year, so parents will have to pay for at least the last three months of busing even if they cancel their bus passes today. Parents would have several months to pay for their passes.

Turnbull said the board picked up about 500 riders when the NDP introduced free busing, and she guessed about 200 might cancel their passes now that the fees are back. She acknowledged this could mean more traffic congestion as parents switch to driving their kids to school.

“We really have been put between a rock and a hard place.”

Trustee Réne Tremblay said these fees reflect an unfortunate reality across the province.

“It’s simply due to the budget, the provincial budget.”

In an interview, board chair Joe Becigneul said this busing cut was part of the roughly $3.7-million shortfall the board faced this year because of provincial cutbacks. The board would take other steps to address the shortfall in the months ahead.

St. Albert Public board chair Glenys Edwards said her board would debate a mid-year bus fee change this December in response to provincial cuts.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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