Comox Valley School District still trying to make busing efficient

New bus routes, walk limits and secondary bell times will be implemented in September, as the school district tries to make its busing more efficient.

New bus routes, walk limits and secondary bell times will be implemented in September, as the school district tries to make its busing more efficient.

The school board voted last week to direct staff to implement new bus routes, walk limits and adjusted bell times for the 2011-12 school year.

“Because of shifting populations over time, some stops have become inefficient,” said Chuck Morris, the district’s director of operations. “This review identifies current family locations and allows us to respond by letting routes become more efficient. Up to this point, there’s been no process to identify who should be on a given bus. It is nearly impossible in some cases to identify eligible riders or courtesy riders.”

A bus rider registration form is being created to determine eligible riders, and Morris expects it to be complete within the next two weeks.

Completed bus rider registration will trigger a bus pass system that will be ready for the start of school in September, he explained.

Courtesy riders will be allowed on buses after Sept. 30.

“This is because the student numbers vary quite a bit, and we will not be able to identify the available seats until approximately the end of September,” said Morris. “Once we show stable numbers and areas students will get bused from, we’ll know how many seats are available for courtesy riders and will begin allocating those seats.”

Morris hopes the district will have information back to families whose children will be riding buses by mid-August.

The bell time changes have been decided for Georges P. Vanier Secondary School, Mark R. Isfeld Secondary School and Highland Secondary School and incorporated into the new bus routes.

Because of ferry schedules and bell times, about 100 students are typically late for class each day at Vanier, and this is being fixed, noted Morris.

“To assist with secondary student busing and because we have to adhere to ferry schedules, bell times at secondary schools have been moved,” he said. “It allows for a little more flexibility, and the buses will arrive on time to get children to class. This will provide a level of comfort to students, parents and the schools that students won’t be arriving late.”

Because of the volume of students from Courtenay West and other areas, the district has shortened the secondary walk limits from 4.8 kilometres to four kilometres.

For kindergarten to Grade 7, all walk limits have been shortened to 1.6 kilometres.

“Shortened walk limits allow us to bus more children and removes the little ones from roadways that can be dangerous,” said Morris.

The school district is working with First Student to complete dry run testing of the bus routes to confirm the validity of routes and ensure the timing is correct.

“We expect the need to make minor corrections on some routes after testing them,” noted Morris. “It is our goal, once all routes are tested and work as planned, to show them on our website as  actual maps … It is our goal to make it easy and friendly to access by anyone needing to see the route.”

Morris anticipates a process of public consultation in the fall, including surveying the parents and asking for feedback for the broader discussion of busing for programs of choice and charging fees for courtesy riders.

At the last meeting, trustees asked Morris to look at the issue of Late French Immersion students from Denman and Hornby islands getting to École Puntledge Park Elementary on time.

“We looked at that one run, and there is room on the new routes for late French Immersion to ride as courtesy riders,” said Morris.

Trustee Sheila McDonnell appreciated hearing that.

“I want to thank you so much,” she said. “That is such great news.”

Trustee Fran Goldberg felt the district was better off after going through this busing review.

“I think we’ve got some really good solutions,” she said. “It was a process to get here, but it was a process worth going through.”

Board chair Susan Barr thanked Morris for all his work on this.

“I am so thrilled with the work that took place,” she said. “I think this has been an amazing piece of work.”