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Thursday , 2 December 2021

Operators say the school bus industry is drowning in Alberta

The Alberta School Bus Contractors’ Association (ASBCA) says because of rising insurance rates hundreds of buses could soon be off the road.

Insurance rates are renewing next month for bus contractors and they are expected to be expensive.

Hugh and Julie Gamblin are Contractors for the St. Paul Education Division.

According to the ASBCA, it has been 54 years for Hugh and 47 years for Julie in this industry. Hugh began as a school bus mechanic and soon transferred over to driving school busses. When Hugh married Julie, she joined the team as well and the Gamblins have happily owned
and operated their small business ever since.

“Over the years they’ve proved themselves a crucial and important part of the community,” the ASBCA stated. “Having been to many of their students’ graduations and even weddings, the Gamblins say they love their work for the opportunity it has given them to connect with and
protect the most precious cargo in the world. But circumstances have been changing over the years, leaving the Gamblins frustrated.”

Insurance costs are the immediate issue and the main reason that many contractors will give up operating says the ASBCA.

“The cost of the insurance jumped from $1300/ bus to $4300/ bus and most contractors do not have the funds to cover this increase,” the ASBCA stated. “The reality is that an increase of this magnitude is affecting all contractors in the Province, especially the small to medium size operators.”

Over the years, the costs of operating school busses have only gone up, while contractor rates and funding has stayed the same.

“One of the biggest issues, say the Gamblins, is the MELT program. The $5000 fee is a hefty cost to front for training new drivers,” the ASBCA said. “As smaller operators, those fees fall on their shoulders with minimal support in funding. Prospective drivers must first pass the MELT program before they can get a feel for the job and the industry, the program is excellent for training drivers on road safety, but lacking in giving them experience working with students, parents, and others in this industry.”

In some cases, small business owners have to pay the training fee multiple times before finding a diligent crew. This often leaves small owners working with a shortage of operators.

“The loss of the fuel escalation clause, combined with the rising carbon tax is just another hit the Gamblins are taking unfunded,” the ASBCA said. “All of this does not include the 300 per cent spike in insurance this year that they have been taken by surprise with.

These changes have directly impacted their livelihood, and the Gamblins don’t see themselves profiting in this industry any longer. Already they’veseen many of their long-time colleagues leave the industry.

The Gamblins want the Minister of Education to know that funding is needed urgently and as soon as possible.

“They want to emphasize that funding should be set aside for transportation and handed in a more direct fashion, since funding seems to
have to pass through many hands and authorities before it can reach them, and too often nothing does,” the ASBCA stated.

Owners say they need Alberta Education to direct school boards to do one of two things now:
1. Pay for the additional cost to the insurance or
2. Increase school bus contractor rates enough to offset that insurance increase.

Prior to 2020, Student Transportation had not seen an increase from Alberta Education in a long time and in fact, the fuel escalation grant was removed and yet many operating costs took major hikes that operators are having to deal with such as training costs.

Operators say the school bus industry is drowning in Alberta and the kids soon will have no means of getting to their basic human right of access to an education.

Lakeland Connect will speak with some of these contractors to air these frustrations in the coming weeks.

About Arthur C. Green

Arthur C. Green is from Whitbourne Newfoundland and graduated from the CNA Journalism Program. Arthur also studied Business Marketing and Political Science at Memorial University in Essex England and St. John's Newfoundland. Green has worked for such organizations as CBC, CBC Radio, NTV, Saltwire, Great West Media, CKLB Radio, Vista Radio, and Postmedia. He also loves Jiggs Dinner!