Working with School Bus Operators
Date: February 23, 2017
The second webinar in a series on Community Transportation (CT) was hosted by the OCTN on Tuesday January 31st, 2017. The topic was “Working with School Bus Operators to Provide Community Transportation”. A goal of the webinar was to present local school bus operators and their vehicles as resources, with underutilized capacity, available to communities. Another aim of the session was to provide a better understanding of what is happening in a couple of municipalities within the province where they are working with school bus operators in order to provide local community transportation.
When we talk about school buses here in North America, and the province of Ontario, we think of an emblematic yellow school bus with a standard design, colour, size and shape. But the vehicles that school bus operators have access to can come in different shapes and sizes, just like the operators themselves. For instance, a school bus operator could be a small, independent business owner or a large multi-national company, and they might own standard school buses as well as variations.
Regardless of size, all school bus operators in this province have to adhere to strict codes of practice. They have standardized guidelines which have to be followed, and their vehicles are regulated with systematic inspections and audits. Ontario school bus operators are responsible for safely transporting over 800,000 children every day, so the industry has to maintain an incredible safety record. According to Transport Canada, transporting children to and from school in a school bus is actually 16 times safer than using the family car! (Source: Ontario School Bus Association website: http://www.osba.on.ca/about-osba)
Drivers receive specialized training in everything from the safe loading and unloading of passengers, emergency evacuation and first aid, to managing rider behaviour. School bus drivers are not only rigorously trained, but they also receive frequent driving record and criminal background checks as well. Therefore, school bus operators can provide a level of service that those working in and around community transportation can rely on.
When buses are used for purposes other than student transport, the vehicles might be painted a different colour (such as white), and they may be outfitted with other elements in their interiors (such as seat belts, air conditioning, and wheelchair accessibility). These are called “multi-function” school buses. This is the type of vehicle that is used by Pelham Transit, and which Vickie vansRavenswaay spoke of.
Vickie’s presentation did a great job of outlining how and why working with a local school bus operator was a great benefit to the Town of Pelham. She spoke about how flexible and accommodating they were, the fact that they knew the local area and the ideal routes and that they were willing to help with data collection (of real importance to a pilot project).
The scope of the webinar did not include using school buses at the same times as when school children are on them, as this is a “hot-potato” issue that involves liabilities for the school boards, concerns from parents, and a whole host of other issues. In Muskoka, they are currently making use school buses during the times in between when students are on them, such as 9:30am -2:30pm.
Both of these projects are currently receiving funding through the provincial Ministry of Transportation’s “Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program” (or the MTO CT Program). The CT Program is intended to support the development of community transportation solutions to address local transportation needs, including ways to better utilize existing transportation resources. And clearly, working with school bus operators fits into that.
During the webinar, participants also heard from Greg Hammond, of Hammond Transportation Ltd. who represents an independent, small business operator in South Central Ontario. Greg was able to provide some interesting information about school bus operators which can assist those considering a contract with one to provide community transportation.
Overall, it was clear that school bus operators do more than just provide transportation for students to elementary and secondary schools. They also offer transportation services to other members of the community and to different destinations. For some municipalities, working with school bus operators had been integral to meeting local transportation needs. To learn more, you can listen to the webinar recording and view the slides at: http://www.octn.ca/presentations