Due to a decrease in yellow school bus ridership attributed to the pandemic and online schooling, the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) in Canada is refunding student passengers.
CBE stated on its website that the total cost to operate yellow school buses has decreased because of school closures or students opting for other modes of travel. Because of this, CBE reported a $9 million surplus in its transportation budget this year.
“This change is the result of a number of different factors, such as families making different transportation choices due to the global pandemic, students moving to Hub online learning and, the overall reduced student enrolment across the system,” the board stated.
Because of this surplus, any school bus rider who was registered for service by Feb. 28 will receive a full refund of all transportation fees paid this year. Funds are expected to start flowing back to families next month. The refunds are only for transportation services and cannot be used for other fees, CBE stated.
“With the reduction in ridership, we were able to accommodate fewer students and needed fewer buses. As well, $900,000 from the federal COVID-19 funding was used to cover the additional cleaning costs,” CBE stated on its website.
The CBE website states that students who live between 1.6 km (about a mile) and 2.4 km (about 1.5 miles) from school or who attend alternative programs and are not required by law to be transported are charged $800 a year. Meanwhile, students who live further than 2.4 km (1.5 miles) away from their designated community school and students in specialized programs who can use general transportation are required to pay $465 a year.
Registrants after Feb. 28 are still required to pay their fees, though the CBE stated that exemptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
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Any additional surplus money at the end of the year will allow for the establishment of a transportation reserve fund for the 2021-2022 school year. The Student Transportation Regulation states that any surplus fees collected for transportation must be used to subsidize the cost of student transportation within the following two years.
CBC News reported that even with the refunds, the board anticipates a $3 million surplus.
The CBE stated it is currently reviewing fees and service levels for the 2021-2022 school year and will make an announcement and launch transportation pre-registration next month.