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Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiencies in Student Transportation ( January, 2015)



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Education on Wheels
Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency
Opportunities in Student Transportation
Paul W. Bennett, Ed.D
Director of Schoolhouse Consulting
Adjunct Professor of Education at Saint Mary’s University
Derek M. Gillis
Independent Research Consultant
Coordinator of GPI Atlantic’s YouthRide! Research and Action Project
January 2015
Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Student Transportation
2 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS)
AIMS is a Canadian non-profit, non-partisan think tank that provides a distinctive Atlantic
Canadian perspective on economic, political, and social issues. The Institute sets the benchmark
on public policy by drawing together the most innovative thinking available from some of the
world's foremost experts and applying that thinking to the challenges facing Canadians.
AIMS was incorporated as a non-profit corporations under Part II of the Canada Corporations
Act and was granted charitable registration by Revenue Canada as of 3 October 1994. It received
US charitable recognition under 501(c)(3), effective the same date.
287 Lacewood Drive, Second Floor, Suite 204
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3M 3Y7
Telephone: (902) 429-1143
Board of Directors
Chairman: John Risley
Former Chairman: John F. Irving
President and CEO: Marco Navarro-Genie
Vice-Chair: Laura Araneda (New Brunswick)
Vice-Chair: David Hooley (Prince Edward Island)
Vice-Chair: Leo Power (Newfoundland and Labrador)
Secretary: Fae Shaw
Treasurer: Elaine Sibson
Directors: Paul Antle, Lee Bragg, Robert Campbell, Stephen Emmerson, Richard Florizone,
Nelson Hagerman, Douglas Hall, Mary Keith, Dennice Leahey, Scott McCain, Todd McDonald,
Jonathan Meretsky, Jonathan Norwood, Don Mills, Bob Owens, Jason Shannon, Maxime St.
Pierre, Peter Woodward
Advisory Council
George Bishop, Angus Bruneau, George Cooper, Purdy Crawford, Ivan Duvar, Peter Godsoe,
James Gogan, Frederick Hyndman, Bernard Imbeault, Phillip Knoll, Colin Latham, Norman
Miller, James Moir, Jr., Gerald L. Pond, Cedric E. Ritchie, Allan C. Shaw, Joseph Shannon
Board of Research Advisors
Advisors: Charles Colgan, J. Colin Dodds, Morley Gunderson, Doug May, Jim McNiven, Robert
Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Student Transportation
3 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
Table of Contents
About the Authors............................................................................................................................4
Overview: Seizing the Opportunities in Student Transportation.....................................................5
Student Transportation: Identifying the Hidden Policy Issues........................................................6
Getting to School: Growth of the Student Transportation System................................................10
Provincial Funding and the Operational Framework.....................................................................14
Current Funding and Cost Management Concerns........................................................................18
Critical Issues.................................................................................................................................20
Promising Practices: Toward Sustainability and Energy Efficiency.............................................23
Conclusion and Recommendations................................................................................................27
Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Student Transportation
4 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
About the Authors
Paul W. Bennett, Ed.D., is Founding Director of Schoolhouse Consulting and Adjunct Professor
of Education, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, NS. Over a professional career spanning four
decades, Dr. Bennett has researched and written eight books, conducted policy studies, produced
many major research reports, and published numerous articles in the popular and academic press.
This research report is his sixth education policy paper prepared for the Atlantic Institute for
Market Studies (AIMS) over the past five years.
Dr. Bennett is well versed on student transportation matters. As an elected Ontario Public School
Trustee (1988-97), he chaired the Transportation Committee at the York Region Board of
Education, Ontario’s fourth largest school board. From 1993 to 1997, he initiated and co-chaired
the York Region Joint Board Consortium on Transportation Services, one of the first of its kind
in the country. That initiative won him two recognition awards, including one from the Ontario
School Bus Operators Association. Since then, Paul has always taken an active interest in student
transportation issues. His two most recent books, Vanishing Schools, Threatened Communities
(2011) and The Last Stand (2013) both focused on rural decline, educational consolidation, and
school closures–and explored the impact of long school bus rides on today’s students.
Derek M. Gillis is an independent Halifax research consultant specializing in sustainable
transportation research, program development, coordination, youth and adult education and
community engagement. Derek coordinated GPI Atlantic’s Youth Ride! Research and Action
Project, engaging 37 youth to investigate and share their own perspectives about access to
transportation in non-urban communities and how it relates to well-being and connection to
Mr. Gillis is dedicated to addressing public/community transit issues as an active board member
of Community Transit-Nova Scotia, currently advocating and advancing more viable community
transportation solutions. He developed vehicle fleet and fuel management programs, efficient
driving education, and drive less initiatives with The Clean Foundation (formerly known as
Clean Nova Scotia) between 2009 and 2013. More recently, he has been working for
Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Student Transportation
5 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
Overview: Seizing the Opportunities in Student Transportation
Public schools in most of Maritime Canada simply do not operate anymore without a ready fleet
of yellow buses. More and more of our school tax dollars are going to provide services outside
the classroom in the form of “Education on Wheels,” otherwise known as daily student
Annual busing costs have risen at a time of significantly declining student enrolments. From
1987 to 2014, judging from the published figures, student transportation costs in New Brunswick
have doubled from $31.3 million (CEA, 1987) to $58.7 million (School Bus Fleet, 2014). More
is being spent to transport a shrinking student population that plummeted from 120,600 to
102,579 (14.9%) in the recent ten year period from 2002-3 to 2011-12 (NB Data Points 2013). In
Nova Scotia, over the past five years, student transportation costs (actual operating costs for full-
time students) have risen from $64.2 million to $71.2 million, an increase of 10.9 percent at a
time when overall P-12 enrolment shrunk by 8.3 percent from 131,159 to 120,340 students.
While mounting student transportation costs is fast becoming a major challenge for provincial
education authorities and school boards, the critical issues remain shrouded in mystery and
largely hidden from the public. School transportation policy is essentially driven by provincial
grants and the official 3.6 km/2.4 km/1.6 km ‘Walk Limit Standard’ entrenched in the long-
standing regulations.
School closures and consolidation are routinely implemented as cost reduction measures without
any real disclosure of the impact on school board or provincial school busing costs. Small school
advocates and community activists who ask questions about the added costs to taxpayers are
assured that it is either of no concern or that more students can simply be added to existing bus
routes. Given the escalating costs identified in this report, those rationalizations no longer
suffice. With some 68 percent of all Nova Scotia students riding the buses and some regional
boards busing over 90 percent of their pupils, it is time to blow the whistle.
School board initiatives aimed at containing costs by fiddling with local busing regulations and
enforcing walking distances have little effect because daily home-to-school student
transportation, driven largely by school closures and fuel costs, is taking a bigger and bigger bite
out of provincial education spending.
Student transportation is a hidden public policy issue that now requires attention by both
provincial auditors and utility review boards. In response to our investigation into student
transportation, the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
went to extraordinary lengths over two months to collect the province-wide data and summarize
it for use in this report. Assembling reliable data was a formidable challenge in the absence of
any requirement for full public disclosure of the scale and cost of operations.
Fortunately, critical policy research in Ontario has identified the most potentially productive
points of investigation: the impact of provincial subsidies, preferential purchasing arrangements,
and oligopolistic market tendencies, sharing of services, and a whole range of further cost and
energy efficiencies. The establishment of joint board consortia in Ontario, mandated province-
Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Student Transportation
6 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
wide in 2006, now provides us with concrete examples of its short and longer-term cost and
management effectiveness benefits.
Better managing the bus fleet and achieving cost reductions are only one side of the public policy
issue. Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, has urged policy-
makers to look at the impact of school consolidation and busing on the health of children and
youth. Community advocacy groups such as Community Transit-Nova Scotia and the Ecology
Action Centre share this concern and support public policy initiatives promoting active, healthy
transportation alternatives. A comprehensive audit of student transportation might open the door
to community planning more focused on establishing walkable schools in healthier local
Student transportation needs to be factored into public policy discussion about containing
education costs and creating liveable, walkable communities. School consolidation, provincial
subsidization of student busing, the disappearance of smaller community schools, the role of
joint board consortia, and other proven cost and energy efficiencies are all critical issues
awaiting to be addressed in Maritime provincial school systems.
School budgets are under more pressure than ever before and the focus should be on ensuring
that scarce resources are spent in the classroom to the greatest possible extent. Now is the time to
seize the cost and energy efficiency opportunities in the previously neglected domain of student
transportation services.
Student Transportation: Identifying the Hidden Policy Issues
Transporting students to school is consuming more and more of the costs of public education in
provincial school systems (Drummond 2012, 220-4; Monteiro and Atkinson 2012). In Nova
Scotia over the past five years, student transportation costs (actual operating costs for full time
students) have risen from $64.2 million to $71.2 million, an increase of 10.9 percent (Nova
Scotia 2014b), at a time when overall enrolment in primary and secondary education continues to
decline. Although transportation costs are fast becoming a major challenge for provincial
education authorities and school boards, the critical issues remain shrouded in mystery and
largely hidden from the public. School transportation policy is essentially driven by provincial
grants and official walk limit standards entrenched in long-standing regulations. School board
initiatives aimed at containing costs by fiddling with local busing regulations and enforcing
walking distances have little effect when “Education on Wheels” is taking a bigger and bigger
bite out of provincial education spending, as Table 1 shows for Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia
School closures and consolidation are routinely implemented as cost-reduction measures without
any real disclosure of the impact on school board or provincial school busing costs. Small-school
advocates and community activists who ask questions about the added costs to taxpayers are
assured either that it is of no concern or that more students can simply be added to existing bus
routes (Bennett 2013, 29-32). Behind the scenes, school boards claim that costs are “at the
breaking point,” and lobby fiercely for increased grant support to maintain or augment their bus
fleets. As a 2008 Alberta School Boards Association report quipped, it is “the stone in
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everybody’s shoe” (ASBA 2008, 3). Yet, in the case of Nova Scotia, closing schools and putting
more students on buses has only compounded the problem. Five years ago three in five students
(62.8 percent) were bused to school each day; by the 2013-14 school year, two-thirds (68.1
percent) of the province’s students rode the buses (see Table 2) and travelled longer average
daily distances (Nova Scotia 2014b).
Table 1: Student Transportation Expenditures, by School Board, NS, 2009-14
Source: Nova Scotia 2014b
Today, student transportation is a major public expenditure, particularly in Atlantic Canada,
where rural school districts still predominate and a high proportion of students are transported to
school each day. Yet school bus expenditures, funded mostly through provincial grants, have
rarely, if ever, been audited and remain largely unexplored by researchers. A 1987 Canadian
Education Association (CEA) study provided an overview of the national picture, covering 158
school boards, and documented wide variations in the operation, regulation, and funding of bus
fleets from one province to another. In the case of the four Atlantic provinces, the CEA reported
that $99.3 million was spent during 1986-87 on pupil transportation, representing from 5.40
percent to 7.03 percent of total provincial education budgets (CEA 1987). In comparative school
board data, the study identified expanding student bus transportation as closely connected with
the process of school consolidation in rural and remote school districts.
Comparative analysis of Canadian student transportation is a challenge in the absence of a
federal presence in education and the limitations of the published data. A North American trade
magazine, School Bus Fleet, provides annual summaries of Canadian pupil transportation data by
province, so there is some basis for comparison. Its reports from 2007 to 2014 include New
Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and report on the number of school buses, number of students
transported, total kilometres of service, and, on a limited basis, provincial funding levels. In New
Brunswick, from 1987 to 2014, student enrolment significantly declined but annual busing costs
almost doubled from $31.3 million (CEA, 1987) to $58.7 million (School Bus Fleet, 2014). In
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June 2013, the magazine reported that Nova Scotia had a total school bus fleet of 1,376, 149 (or
10 percent) more than six years earlier. (School Bus Fleet 200714), even though school
enrolment has plummeted. Official Nova Scotia Education Department data covering the
province’s eight school boards for the 2009-14 period contradict the School Bus Fleet’s
information, showing slightly fewer buses (1,073 to 1,100), but report much higher costs per
student transported and a growing proportion of all students (5.3 percent more) dependent on
daily bus transportation (Nova Scotia 2014b).
Table 2: Student Population & Students Bused, by School Board, NS, School Years 2009-14
Source: Nova Scotia 2014b
School Boards
(number of students; percentage based in
Cape Breton-Victoria
Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial
South Shore
Strait Region
Tri County
Student transportation trends in the Maritimes tend to be at odds with the recent pattern across
North America. Looking at the entire US kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12) student population,
slightly over half (55.3 percent) of the 25.3 million students in 2004 were transported on school
buses at public expense (SRSNP 2014; Vincent et al. 2014). A 2009 study of how US elementary
Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Student Transportation
9 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
school students get to school demonstrates that, although the proportion of K-12 students bused
has remained at about 39 percent over the past forty years, the proportion driven by parents has
jumped from 12 percent to 45 percent. Most significantly, the proportion of US students walking
or bicycling to school has dropped from 48 percent to only 13 percent (NCSRS 2011). Such a
pattern is not as evident in Maritime cities such as Halifax, Saint John, Moncton, and
Fredericton. In the Halifax Regional School Board, for example, 24,509 of 48,596 students (50.4
percent) were bused during the 201314 school year, about 7.6 percent more than five years
earlier. For small-town and rural Maritime children, going to school in those distinctive yellow
buses still predominates, with most school districts busing between 80 and 95.9 percent of their
students to and from school each day from September to June (MacIntyre 2014; Nova Scotia
Over the past thirty years, provincial authorities and school boards outside of the Maritime
region have become much more attuned to student transportation costs and the potential for cost
efficiencies. The sharing of bus services between school boards and with other educational
institutions surfaced in the mid-1980s, mainly in Ontario and rural Alberta. “Joint Consortia for
Transportation Services” were established in four or five coterminous public and separate
Ontario school board districts, including York Region and Sudbury School District. The Ontario
School Bus Operators Association, based in Toronto, joined in the collaboration when a number
of boards began pushing for cost efficiencies. Such initiatives were accompanied by business
plans incorporating computerized route scheduling, the enforcement of walking distances, and
the combining of routes, bulk purchasing, double runs, and staggered school times.
In 2002, the Ontario Education Equality Task Force recommended that the province create eight
to ten joint transportation “service boards.” In 2006–07, the Ontario Ministry of Education took
action, requiring school boards across the province to develop partnerships and combine school
board transportation departments into separate, fully integrated transportation organizations. The
Student Transportation Reform initiative compelled all of the province’s seventy-two boards to
embrace the cooperative student transportation model and to combine in common, coterminous
geographical areas (Ontario 2014). In the initial phases of coterminous sharing, millions of tax
dollars were saved, but the entry of dominant bus industry players such as Laidlaw and Stock
and preferred supplier arrangements tended to reduce price competition over time. In June 2011,
an Ontario task force report identified the problem of competitive procurement and revealed that
school bus costs (for 800,000 students) had reached $845 million, representing 4 percent of the
province’s education budget. Based on such findings, economist Don Drummond included
reducing student transportation costs by 25 percent in his February 2012 report recommending
province-wide austerity measures (Drummond 2012, R 6-17). That recommendation likely was
based on the findings of Ministry of Education Effectiveness & Efficiency Reviews conducted
since 2008 that point out further potential cost savings among Ontario’s eighteen consortia
operations (Deloitte 2008).
A research study produced for the June 2012 Canadian Transportation Research Forum provides
a valuable critical economic market analysis of Canadian school bus transportation. Researchers
Joseph Monteiro and Benjamin Atkinson offer an overview of student transportation province by
province, and then examine the school bus industry in some detail, providing an authoritative
analysis of its structure, services, operations, market conditions, and concentration. They also
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10 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
examine provincial regulations to determine their effect on oligopolistic competition and entry
into the industry. Monteiro and Atkinson identify the need to further examine the effect of the
subsidization of pupil transportation, the privatization of school bus services, and costs relative
to the primary mission of public education systems. They draw attention to the serious potential
for collusion among bus operators and “bid rigging” in the awarding of contracts (Monteiro and
Atkinson 2012).
Critical Public Policy Questions: Student transportation is a hidden public policy issue that
requires attention by both provincial auditors and utility review boards. In response to our
investigation into student transportation, the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early
Childhood Development went to extraordinary lengths over two months to collect province-wide
data and summarize it for use in this report (see Tables 1 and 2). That laborious exercise alone
amply demonstrates that assembling reliable data is a formidable challenge in the absence of the
requirement for full public disclosure. Fortunately, critical policy research in Ontario has
identified the most potentially productive points of investigation: the effect of provincial
subsidies, preferential purchasing arrangements, oligopolistic market tendencies, the sharing of
services, and a whole range of further cost and energy efficiencies. Rising levels of expenditures
for student busing at a time of falling enrolment raises red flags, as does the total absence of
public disclosure and accountability.
Better management of the bus fleet and achieving cost reductions are, however, only one side of
the public policy issue. Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, has
urged policymakers to look at the effect of school consolidation and busing on the health of
children and youth (Strang 2014). Community advocacy groups such as Community Transit-
Nova Scotia and the Ecology Action Centre share this concern, and support public policy
initiatives promoting active, healthy transportation alternatives. A comprehensive audit of
student transportation might open the door to community planning focused more on establishing
walkable schools in healthier local communities.
The critical question to be investigated is: Why is student transportation rarely factored into
public discussion about containing education costs and creating liveable, walkable communities?
Simply asking that question would open up a needed policy debate about school consolidation,
provincial subsidization of student busing, the disappearance of walkable schools, the role of
joint board consortia, and the potential for both cost and energy efficiencies. That is the
overarching objective of this study.
Getting to School: Growth of the Student Transportation System
Most schools in Atlantic Canada simply cannot run without daily school bus transportation. It
was not until 1986, however, that school boards became concerned enough about rising cost
pressures to cooperate with the CEA in supporting a national survey of the state of K-12 student
transportation. During the 1986-87 school year, the CEA managed to survey 158 school boards
across Canada to generate previously undocumented information about provincial and school
board policy regulations, funding formula, capital replacement rates, ridership levels, and
comparative costs (CEA 1987, 7-23). In the case of the four Atlantic provinces, the CEA study
reported that a total of $99.3 million was being spent in 198687 on student transportation,
Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Student Transportation
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representing approximately 6 percent of total board expenditures. Total operating costs were
$36.6 million (5.7 percent) in Nova Scotia, $27.3 million (7.03 percent) in New Brunswick,
$23.7 million (5.7 percent) in Newfoundland and Labrador, and $7.7 million (6.6 percent) in
Prince Edward Island (32-3, 37, 40-9). With the data aggregated, policymakers finally had at
their disposal a set of benchmarks to chart and assess changes in the pattern and growth of
student transportation costs.
School bus transportation policies and practices across Canada in 1986-87 were all over the map
from one province to another and even from one school board to another. The CEA survey
results nonetheless were valuable because they exposed, for the first time, the crazy-quilt pattern
of student transportation funding and great inconsistencies in daily home-to-school busing
services. Provincial funding formulas and walking distances varied, but costs were normally
shared by the provinces and school boards. Many school boards still owned their own fleets of
buses, but growing numbers, mostly in urban areas, were contracting out the service to
commercial bus operators. In New Brunswick (and Manitoba), it was noted that the provincial
governments paid 100 percent of the cost of school buses (CEA 1987, 5). Much of the focus of
student transportation in provinces such as Nova Scotia was on securing capital bus purchase
grants and covering debt-servicing costs. Overall, student transportation was revealed to be a
grant-driven, rather than student-numbers-determined, education support service. Educational
decisions were being made that dictated changes, necessitated more busing, and entailed
absorbing more costs. The CEA study reported little or nothing about the challenge of
implementing busing regulations or maximum walking distances, or minimizing the constant
demand for “special arrangements.” Nor was there much evidence of special education
transportation, which, starting in the 1990s, became an important driver of rising costs per
student. The study did, however, identify the main differences among the four Atlantic provinces
some thirty years ago, which it is useful to review.
In Nova Scotia, a review of student transportation in the mid-1980s resulted in a significant
change in funding arrangements, moving from a per student formula, based on registered
numbers as of September 30, to a block grant formula based on projected transportation
operating expenses (CEA 1987, 34). Starting in 1987, Nova Scotia school boards received
operating grants “equal to 100 percent of the year’s projected transportation operating expenses.”
Projected costs increased 4.0 percent under the new formula, and the funding included
allocations for co-curricular and extracurricular school trips. School boards also received
financial assistance to help cover the debt-servicing costs, as at September 30, 1982, of acquiring
and paying for buses. The Capital Bus Purchase Grant, or Bus Rate, was set at $4,150 per unit, or
one-tenth of the cost of purchasing a school bus that meets certain standards (D250 standards) of
the Canadian Standards Association, ensuring the structural integrity of buses and meeting other
standards regulated by the Nova Scotia Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities. The new
grant formula also allowed for “spare buses” as “an integral part of the fleet” (CEA 1987, 34).
In New Brunswick, in the mid-1980s, school bus transportation was far more centralized and
directly managed by provincial authorities as a result of major changes, beginning in 1984, that
transferred authority and decision making to the province. “The Department of Education”, the
CEA study reported, now ran all aspects of student transportation, and “all school bus drivers
work for the Department.” Starting in the 1984–85 school year, increasing numbers of school
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boards were simply given no budget for student transportation. Although the Department of
Education managed the student services, the provincial Department of Transportation took over
“the total operation of student transportation vehicles” (CEA 1987, 32). The province thus began
to wield considerable control over school transportation services. Beginning in September 1987,
the Department of Transportation billed each school board directly “a fixed rate per kilometre for
the operation, maintenance and repair of its fleet.” In terms of capital costs, the province reported
allocating $4 million and purchasing “approximately 100 buses a year.” In a modest attempt to
encourage cost efficiencies, school districts that reduced their yearly mileage were permitted to
“keep the money” they saved through such measures (32-3).
In Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, provincial student transportation
policies and funding regulations reflected a few other peculiarities. In both provinces, a 1.6 km
walking limit was explicitly stated in the regulations and set as the determinant of approved
provincial funding. In the 1986-87 school year, some 30 percent of Newfoundland and
Labrador’s “student conveyance” was still provided by board-owned and operated buses, and
unlike Nova Scotia, the province reimbursed the boards for only 90 percent of approved costs.
The CEA noted that school boards in Prince Edward Island bought buses or contracted out the
service with “a budget provided by the Department of Education” (CEA 1987, 34, 35-6).
School busing in the mid-1980s was most prevalent in predominantly rural school districts. Of
158 school boards across Canada that participated in the CEA survey, 18 reported busing over 80
percent of their registered students; 10 of these school boards were located in Atlantic Canada,
most of them in New Brunswick. The top two school busing leaders were New Brunswick’s
District 36, Dalhousie, at 99.5 percent of all students, followed by Nova Scotia’s Conseil
Scolaire Acadien Clare-Argyle, Meteghan, at 97.1 percent. A Newfoundland and Labrador
district, RCSB Conception Bay, ranked seventh with 89 percent of students bused; Prince
Edward Island’s Regional Board in Montague came ninth, at 83.4 percent; and two other Nova
Scotia boards, Hants West (DSB) Windsor, and Guysborough DSB, finished sixteenth and
seventeenth, respectively, with 80.8 percent and 80.3 percent of their students bused (CEA 1987,
13). In virtually every case, the proportion of students bused in these rural districts is much
higher today. For the entire Chignecto-Central Regional School Board in Nova Scotia,
encompassing the towns of Amherst, Truro, New Glasgow, and surrounding areas, the current
publicly acknowledged figure is 82.3 percent of all students. By the standards of 1986-87, six of
Nova Scotia’s eight school boards today would break the 82 percent level, putting them in the
top ten in terms of busing among Canadian school boards (Nova Scotia 2014b).
Thirty years ago the sharing of student transportation services to reduce costs was still in its
infancy. The CEA report identified nine school board initiatives as either exemplary or
promising. Six of the nine were Ontario joint transportation or sharing projects, in places such as
Ottawa, London, and Niagara South. Two of the Ontario initiatives, in NipissingPembroke and
Kent County, served mostly rural and small-town students. Most of the identified projects were
in the pilot stages, a few of them involving modest numbers of students. Only one Maritime
education authority was listed as showing any progress in sharing student transportation services.
That one jurisdiction was the Regional Board in Bathurst, New Brunswick, where, for pragmatic
reasons, French students rode the English board’s public school buses (CEA 1987, 15–16). From
these tentative initiatives emerged an Ontario movement that surfaced in the 2005-06 school year
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and led to the reorganization of all seventy-two of that province’s remaining school boards into
just eighteen joint board consortia for student transportation services (Ontario 2014).
Over the period from 1986 to 2007, the Canadian school bus industry grew significantly in
number of firms and total revenues, which rose from $640 million to $1.602 billion, an increase
of 150.4 percent (Monteiro and Atkinson 2012, 3). From 2001 to 2007, while total K-12
enrolment across Canada declined by 4.5 percent, total school bus industry revenue reportedly
rose by 9.9 percent (Statistics Canada 2014). School bus services (including chartered buses)
generated $1.529 billion in revenue in 2007, of which only $38.6 million was accounted for by
the Atlantic region. Privately run buses far outnumbered in-house school district buses in the
total Canadian fleet. At the time of the acquisition of Laidlaw by the United Kingdom’s First
Group in February 2007, about 30,000 school buses, or three out of every four vehicles, were
owned by private contractors (School Bus Fleet 2007).
School bus fleets in the Atlantic provinces in 2007 remained provincially funded and still mostly
publicly owned, unlike in Ontario and Quebec. In New Brunswick, the province operated 1,100,
or 89.9 percent, of its 1,223-unit bus fleet. Some 92,000, or 84 percent, of New Brunswick’s
109,464 student population was bused over 26,000 km of roadways, funded by $52.5 million in
provincial grants. That same year, Nova Scotia’s fleet of 1,227 buses was 73.7 percent publicly
operated and the balance, some 404 vehicles, was operated by private contractors (Monteiro and
Atkinson 2012, 23, 4). The entry of Stock Transportation into the Nova Scotia market in 1996
through the Halifax Regional School Board marked a shift to national, rather than local, bus
contractors. Today, Stock Transportation (owned since 2002 by global transportation giant
National Express Group, PLC, of the United Kingdom) operates more than 3,400 school buses in
Ontario and Nova Scotia (Stock Transportation 2014)
Table 3: School Bus Fleet Operations, NS, 2009-14
Source: School Bus Fleet, June, 2009-14
Number of School Buses
Publicly Owned
Privately Operated
Number of Students Transported Daily
Annual Route Distance
*The published 2014 data for number of buses is incomplete, likely because of missing data from one of
the regional school boards
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As Table 3 shows, since 2010 Nova Scotia’s school bus fleet has remained essentially the same
size even though total student enrolment has continued to plummet in seven of the eight regional
school boards. School closures and consolidation have reduced the total number of public
schools from 425 to 398, but the number of students bused has remained almost constant, and the
annual route distance has jumped from 19 million km to 23.4 million km. The Chignecto-Central
Regional School Board is typical of “Education on Wheels,” with 16,800 (82.3 percent) of its
20,423 students in the 2013-14 school year riding the buses each school day. Four of the
province’s other regional boards bus from 85 to 96 percent of their students to school each day
(Nova Scotia 2014b). Closing smaller, mainly rural schools and busing more students each year
to larger primary to grade 8 consolidated schools or primary to grade 12 regional education
centres only results in more students on buses and longer bus runs, adding to the associated costs
of fuel and maintenance.
New Brunswick’s student transportation data also demonstrate the constancy of the size of the
bus fleet in the face of a continuing decline in enrolment. From 2009 to 2014, the total number of
buses rose from 1,156 to 1,237, while the number of students bused dropped from 85,000 to
74,055. Total provincial funding for pupil transportation peaked in 2013 at $58.7 million, when
the numbers bused stood at 79,000, some 6,000 fewer than in 2009. Rising school bus costs since
2006 have been driven, in part, by New Brunswick’s firm commitment to “inclusion” or the
integration of most disabled students into widely scattered regular classrooms (Bennett 2012).
Separate vehicles are used almost exclusively to integrate special needs pupils into regular
classrooms in every school in the province. Of the 1,118 buses reported in 2013, only 49 (4.4
percent) were privately owned. In short, New Brunswick school busing continues to consume
close to $58 million a year, while the province is slowly abandoning private contracting in favour
of fully funded publicly owned buses (School Bus Fleet, June, 2009-14).
Provincial Funding and the Operational Framework
Nova Scotia
In Nova Scotia, student transportation is the responsibility of school boards, and mandated and
funded by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. School boards are
committed to ensuring that transportation is provided in accordance with section 64 of the
Education Act and the following provincial and regional acts and policies: the Motor Vehicle Act;
the Motor Carrier Act; Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal; Department of
Education Special Education Policy; Utility Review Board Regulations; School and Bus
Cancellation Policies; Regional Codes of Conduct; and Creating School Populations Policy.
Section 64 of the Education Act reads: “General Responsibilities and Powers of School Boards -
Duties and powers: 64 (2) (g) subject to the regulations, provide and pay for the conveyance of
students to and from school.” Section 6 of the Regulations, Transportation of Students,
subsection (1) specifies the minimum distance from school:
A school board pursuant to clause 64(2)(g) of the Act shall make provision for the transportation
of students either by providing the service itself, or making arrangements with some other person
for such service, if:
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(a) one or more students reside more than 3.6 km from the school to which they are to be
transported; or
(b) one or more students, because of special needs, require transportation irrespective of
the distance; and
(c) the school board determines that transportation of the students is necessary.
Although Nova Scotia’s regulations specify 3.6 km as the walk limit standard, several school
boards in the province have reduced the distance to 2.4 km for elementary students, and in some
jurisdictions to 1.6 km and 0.8 km, where the built environment does not adequately support
student safety in terms of active transportation, such as community walkability and safe routes
for bicycles and scooters.
Figure 1: Nova Scotia School Boards, 2014
Ironically, the purpose of the Education Act is “to provide for a publicly funded school system
whose primary mandate is to provide education programs and services for students to enable
them to develop their potential and acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to
contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy” (1995-96, c. 1, s. 2).
To that end, section 72 of the Act reads: “The Minister shall make grants to school boards as
determined by the regulations with respect to services provided pursuant to Section 64.”
Essentially, provincial grants cover 100 percent of the cost to contract and/or deliver student
transportation services to and from public schools. Today, most schools in Atlantic Canada
simply cannot run without the support of daily student transportation, currently provided by a
growing school bus industry an industry mandated to deliver services described exclusively as
“the conveyance of students.” Currently, there are two separate student transportation systems in
Nova Scotia, one for francophone students and districts and another for anglophones, despite
apparent geographic overlap and/or route duplications. As Figure 1 shows, the Conseil Scolaire
Acadien system is province-wide and runs alongside seven coterminous systems.
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The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development consists of several operational
units. The Corporate Services branch handles the conveyance of students, with support from the
Facilities Management and Statistics and Data Management divisions. The Corporate Services
branch “provides a range of services to the department, school boards, the Nova Scotia
Community College, universities, public libraries, and other related organizations to assist the
Department in meeting its mandate. Services include the key areas of financial management and
control, facilities and transportation, information technology, statistics and data management,
and the distribution of learning resources and related products.” The Facilities Management
division “provides for administration of policies and programs related to: school planning, school
operations, pupil transportation, and the development and implementation of evaluation policies
and procedures to examine and assess effectiveness of school capital programs and school
conveyance systems. It acts as a liaison with school boards concerning school capital projects,
pupil transportation and school building operations.” And Statistics and Data
Management “provides student, teacher, school and board information to support the monitoring,
management and improvement of the education system. This information is used to address the
needs of stakeholders, to support decisions made within the department, to assist in formulating
effective policies and to make decisions with respect to school board funding” (Nova Scotia
At the school board level, boards, superintendents, and supporting staff are responsible for the
appropriate administration of transportation services and the management of transportation
policy, regulations, and procedures. Halifax Regional School Board contracts out its
transportation services, and contractors “are responsible for the maintenance and safe operation
of all company-owned vehicles, allocation of routes to company drivers and compliance by the
drivers in conforming to scheduled routes and times aligned with board policy” (HRSB 2014).
All other school boards in Nova Scotia currently own or lease, manage, and maintain their school
bus fleets, and contract out supplementary transportation services as needed.
Within each board, a department is assigned to administer and manage the conveyance of
students between schools and home. Titled Operational Services, Facilities Management, or
Transportation Department, staff includes a director, facilities manager, coordinator of pupil
transportation, and pupil transportation foreman at bus depots. The responsible departments
maintain and hire service contracts and bus drivers.
New Brunswick
Similar to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick’s Education Act (section 53) authorizes conveyance for
students enrolled in the public school system. Regulation 2001-51 under the Act is the legislation
governing the operation of the pupil transportation system. Meanwhile, the Motor Vehicle Act
establishes rules for school bus driver classification and standards for vehicle maintenance and
traffic rules.
The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, in cooperation with school
districts, is responsible for the administration of a safe, efficient, and dependable pupil
transportation system. Departmental objectives include:
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o Coordinate the development/revision of administrative policies and the production
of support material/documentation in the area of pupil transportation
o Provide and define training requirements for all potential and regular bus drivers,
as well as promote safety and proper conduct on school buses with the
collaboration of local school administrations.
o Maintain a close link with educational services to ensure that school
transportation plays its support services role in the education system.
o Maintain data and pertinent information to determine school districts’ budget
allocation for school bus operation and analysis. (New Brunswick 2010)
Similar to Nova Scotia, there are two separate student conveyance systems operating throughout
the province, one for francophone students and school districts, and another for anglophones,
despite apparent geographic overlap and/or potential route duplications (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Public School Districts, New Brunswick, 201214
Anglophone Francophone
Prince Edward Island
School transportation in Prince Edward Island, while funded by the province, is run by the
school districts. Until 2012, Prince Edward Island was neatly divided into three school boards:
Eastern District (English), Western District (English), and the French Language Board. In
September 2012, the Eastern and Western districts were merged into one province-wide English
Language School Board. The new unified school board enrols some 20,000 students and
employs over 2,300 teachers and support staff. Bringing the English school boards together,”
PEI education minister Alan McIssac announced on June 1, 2012, “will provide a more focused
and aligned approach for service delivery, reduce duplication, improve efficiencies and role
clarity” (Prince Edward Island 2012). Although the two English boards merged services, the
separate French Language Board continues to operate a parallel school bus service.
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Current Funding and Cost Management Concerns
The need to curtail student transportation costs has surfaced periodically as a public policy issue
in the Atlantic provinces. Whenever the issue is raised, provincial ministers of education are
quick to point to the cooperative approach taken to cost reduction through the bulk purchasing of
new school buses. In September 2003, Nova Scotia education minister Jamie Muir was proud to
announce the purchase of sixty-four new school buses for the 200405 school year under a bulk
purchase plan involving the four Atlantic provinces. The total purchase price of $4.5 million
included four buses for the physically handicapped and was intended to replace older vehicles
under a policy that recommends buses be replaced every twelve and a half years. The new buses
were allocated to six different school boards outside Halifax Regional Municipality. The
Education Department claimed that bulk purchasing was very cost effective, shaving $10,000 off
the cost of each bus and saving Nova Scotia taxpayers about $640,000 (Nova Scotia 2003).
Cooperative purchasing of school buses is only one of many policy measures used elsewhere to
achieve cost efficiencies. Where provincial governments adopt austerity agendas, seek to reduce
administration, and focus more spending on the classroom, school boards are more inclined to
consider and embark upon more innovative approaches, such as privatizing school bus service
and sharing services among school boards. In Ontario and Quebec, school boards have opted
increasingly to contract out student transportation services. Since the late 1980s, leading Ontario
school boards such as those in Ottawa and York Region have, on their own, established regional
bus transportation authorities, merging the services of their public, separate, and French boards.
In January 1994, the two fast-growing York Region boards formed a Joint Board Consortium
and merged their school busing services. Under a new organization, Student Transportation
Services York Region, they adopted the motto “Better Together,” established a single
headquarters, merged dozens of bus routes, and saved taxpayers some $1 million a year in the
initial three-year implementation period (York Region Board of Education 1994, 6).
The impact of public subsidization and management of pupil transportation on escalating
expenditures has come under close scrutiny. As long ago as 1973, researcher Marvin R. Brams
identified state or provincial grant subsidy programs based upon distance as favouring rural over
urban school systems (Brams 1973). US school busing expert Geoffrey Segal, testifying at a
2004 South Carolina transportation hearing, demonstrated that student transportation service was
best provided at the local, rather than at the state (provincial), level. Unlike more bureaucratic
state authorities, local school districts were seen to exhibit more flexibility in the provision of
innovative student transportation services. Local school districts, Segal testified, were more
likely to generate competitive bids, to embrace contracting out, and to look to privatization to
achieve significant cost savings (Segal 2004).
Four of six authoritative research studies from 1979 until 1996 demonstrated that private
contractors were more efficient and cost effective than maintaining in-house district operations.
In 1993, KPMG Peat Marwick examined thirty school districts in Washington and Oregon that
had privatized student transportation services, and found that, in terms of both cost and quality,
such a policy was superior. These research findings have given impetus to school boards in
Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta to seek to achieve greater efficiency and cost reductions.
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A number of studies of school bus management practices have also identified some of the
potential pitfalls of the privatization of school bus services. In a 2004 study focusing on
Minnesota, Sheryl Lazarus claims that larger private contractors secured control of the most
profitable contracts in urban and suburban areas, shunning the less profitable opportunities in
rural school districts (Lazarus 2004). More recently, Owen Thompson has examined student
busing over a six-year period in Minnesota, and concludes that, after a period of privatization,
reverting to in-house student transportation operations could reap savings of from 15 to 20
percent (2011, 334). Contracting out bus services might introduce more competition and, at least
initially, reduce average costs per student. On the other hand, Canadian researchers Joseph
Monteiro and Benjamin Atkinson have documented the oligopolistic control exercised by large
bus contractors such as Laidlaw and the increasing prevalence of “bid rigging” in the awarding
of contracts (2012, 1112).
Table 4: Pupil Transportation by School Districts, New Brunswick, 200910
Although collusion and bid rigging are against the law, three cases of such activity in school bus
transportation have arisen since 1978, all confined to Ontario and Quebec. In the most often-
cited legal case, four school bus companies Charterways, Travelways, Lorne Wilson, and
Arthur Elen were convicted and fined for bid rigging in Peel Region on May 25, 1981. Such
practices are much more likely to happen in Ontario and Quebec, however, where almost all of
the school bus business is contracted out to private companies in a market dominated by First
Student and Stock Transportation (Monteiro and Atkinson 2012, 5, 13fn8). Corporate
concentration in the private bus industry was greatly advanced on October 1, 2007, when
FirstGroup PLC acquired Laidlaw International. The $3.6 billion deal combined North
America’s two largest private school bus operators Laidlaw Education Services and First
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Student Inc. giving the new owners a total of 60,000 school buses, or 40 percent of the school
bus contractor market (School Bus Fleet 2007).
Merging English public school and English Catholic separate school bus operations has grown in
popularity since the 1980s, driven by shared service initiatives in Ontario, Alberta, and
elsewhere. Since 2006, the Ontario Transportation Reform strategy has further extended the
practice to incorporate French-language school services. Nevertheless, running parallel English
and French student transportation services remains widespread throughout most of Canada’s
provinces. In the case of New Brunswick, for example, student transportation reflects the
dominant policy framework of clearly segregated anglophone and francophone sectors (see
Table 4). Although their geographic areas overlap and some sharing is practised, the two systems
remain separate, as does their financial reporting.
Critical Issues
School districts looking to shed expenditures and balance budgets are often tempted to look to
student transportation services for some of the cost savings. In June 2013, the Loudoun County
school board, in Leesburg, Virginia, facing a $34 million budget reduction, responded by
attempting to enforce its existing walking-distance policy, a move that compelled some 4,000
additional students to walk to school. The controversial decision was publicly justified as one of
making tough choices. “We are not in the transportation business. We are in the education
business,” Leesburg school trustee Bill Fox stated. “And so, if we have to reduce the level of
services someplace, it’s going to be in something like transportation, not in classroom services”
(Barnes 2013). A year later, in June 2014, the Coquitlam School District in British Columbia,
staring at a $13.4 million budget deficit, took the same action, cutting service to 1,500 students in
Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Port Moody, reportedly to save $600,000 in education tax
dollars (Bankay 2014).
The Micropolitics of Student Entitlements
In Atlantic Canada, reining in school busing costs by enforcing walking-distance policies has
proved next-to-impossible. A few school boards have either threatened or attempted, mostly
without success, to cut busing for strictly budgetary reasons (CBC News New Brunswick 2009).
For example, facing a $10 million budget reduction in fiscal year 2012/13, the Halifax Regional
School Board cut a $125,000 program that provided Metro Transit passes for 225 high schoolers
(CTV Atlantic 2012). Fierce parental opposition in elementary schools and determined political
advocacy by locally elected school district members usually have succeeded, however, in beating
back such school-level cost-reduction initiatives.
Student walking-distance policies are always a bone of contention, since they represent the limit
of provincial grant support for students. Provincial school boards, spearheaded by the Alberta
School Boards Association, have long claimed that the official walk limits are “unrealistic in
today’s society” (ASBA 2008, 14). The vast majority of school boards, in fact, have
implemented student walk limits that are shorter than provincial standards. Local boards now
differentiate walk limits based on the age of students and safety concerns such as the presence of
high traffic arteries or major highways. Since the expansion of special education and the rise in
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the numbers of “coded students,” gate and door-to-door services have multiplied, adding to
overall costs. The relatively high number of rural students remains as a controlling factor. By
focusing almost exclusively on enforcing walking limits, school boards become enmeshed in
“micropolitics” with little to show for their attempts at route rescheduling.
Declining Enrolment and Rising Costs
Declining student enrolment is now the most persistent problem facing all of Nova Scotia’s
school boards except the francophone Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial. The problem is so
acute that the Globe and Mail produced an infographic in April 2012 to illustrate its dramatic
impact on one Nova Scotia school board. Taking the South Shore Regional School Board
(SSRSB) as its example, the graph projected that total enrolment would decline from 8,062
students in the 200607 school year to 6,112 students in 201617, a 24.2 percent loss in student
numbers (Globe and Mail, April 7, 2012).
What the Globe and Mail did not report was the impact of plummeting numbers and school
closures on the busing distances and transportation costs incurred by the SSRSB. With each
closure and consolidation, bus distance travelled has edged upwards by September 2013, 92.4
percent, or 6,174 of the school board’s estimated 6,681 students, rode the buses daily to school
(Nova Scotia 2014b). Between 2013 and 2014, although enrolment dropped, student
transportation costs rose again from 7.36 percent of total expenditures to an estimated 7.96
percent, and from $870.00 to $939.45 per student (SSRSB 2013). The pattern is clear: student
numbers decline, schools close, more students are bused, and student transportation costs
escalate unless concrete steps are taken to find cost or energy efficiencies.
Grant-driven Student Transportation
Provincial governments in the Maritimes essentially drive their student transportation systems. In
New Brunswick, the Department of Education and the Department of Transportation provide
annual allocations averaging 90 percent of projected costs, employ most of the drivers, and leave
local education districts to field complaints and negotiate special arrangements. Since
abandoning its per-student funding formula in 1987, Nova Scotia provides school boards
operating grants “equal to 100 percent of the year’s projected transportation operating expenses.”
School boards also receive financial assistance to help cover the cost of acquiring new vehicles
and debt servicing for buses.
Cost-containment measures have only contributed to the aging of provincial bus fleets. Capital
grants for student transportation have hovered between $4 million and $5 million a year in both
Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, necessitating adjustments in capital-replacement ratios. When
Nova Scotia education minister Jamie Muir announced the 2003 capital cost allocation of $4.3
million, it covered only full replacement of bus units after twelve and a half years. Although bus
safety standards have improved, Nova Scotia is pushing the limits in terms of replacement,
forcing bus operators and boards to absorb higher fuel and repair costs. Today, Nova Scotia
school bus operators have come to expect buses to be replaced on what amounts to a thirteen-
year cycle.
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Duplication of Busing Services
Student transportation remains the preserve of provincial education authorities and local school
districts in all four Atlantic provinces. In New Brunswick, the province completely dominates
the school bus industry, essentially dictating funding levels and special education subsidies,
operating over 90 percent of the bus fleet, and even employing the vast majority of school bus
drivers (Monteiro and Atkinson 2012, 4). Moreover, the student bus service is funded, managed,
and sustained by the province with little or no contact with or participation by New Brunswick’s
urban transit services. The school system’s divided anglophone and francophone sectors run
parallel student transportation systems and respect each other’s jurisdictional boundaries. Few
politicians or school officials have dared to even ask if the sharing of bus services, on a larger
scale, might result in significant savings to provincial taxpayers.
The Nova Scotia student transportation picture is more complicated, but exhibits the same
general pattern when it comes to duplication of services. Each of Nova Scotia’s eight publicly
funded regional school boards receives separate provincial funding allocations, but the individual
boards are expected to operate the daily student bus operations. Each board has its own student
transportation operation, while Atlantic Canada’s largest board, the Halifax Regional School
Board, delegates much of the operation to its sole contractor, Stock Transportation, based in
Dartmouth. The far-flung Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial, based in Meteghan, manages its
own student busing, using separate contractors and operating routes on the same highways,
roads, and byways as the seven English-language boards. Although school board transportation
managers sit on a Pupil Transportation Advisory Committee, the sharing of services remains a
low priority, and there is little appetite for cooperative ventures that might upset the existing
scope and predictability of local operations (Bennett 2010, 5). Provincial capital grant reductions
are simply absorbed, with costs passed on to school board budgets and gradually eating into core
funding for classroom services.
Lack of Public Accountability
Provincial auditor generals in Maritime Canada have shown little or no interest in examining or
auditing student transportation expenses. Even in Ontario, where economist Don Drummond’s
2012 public services review created great controversy, the whole student transportation system
attracts far more intense interest. Since the implementation of the 2006 Student Transportation
Reform initiative, responsibility has been shifted to the 18 joint service boards and entrusted to
Deloitte to conduct periodic, incredibly detailed Efficiency & Effectiveness Reviews, assessing
the impact of joint board consortia (Deloitte, MoE E&E Review, 2008). Growing public
concerns over corporate concentration and procurement were highlighted in Coulter Osborne’s
2012 Ontario task force report identifying significant weaknesses in the existing procurement
process for school bus services (Osborne, 2012). That report revealed, in dramatic ways, the
distortions in the school bus market and the potential for unfair business practices associated
with contracting out student bus services.
In the Maritimes, however, school bus capital funding policy and operational expenses continue
to fly below the public radar. The New Brunswick government publishes only annual province-
wide global budget figures for student transportation services, estimating their total costs. In
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Nova Scotia, student transportation expenses remain buried in Department of Finance budget
estimates. In the fiscal year 2014/15 budget documents, the only references to student busing
provide very limited disclosure. Under “School Capital Amortization” (7.10), the item “Buses”
indicates a total forecast expenditure of $5,140,000; under “Estimates and Supplementary Detail’
(7.8), the “Formula Grants to School Boards” totals $872,315,000, which likely includes all costs
for buses (Nova Scotia 2014a). That is as close to public transparency as it gets in Nova Scotia.
We contend that the student transportation data in this report (released to us by the Nova Scotia
Education Department) should be publicly accessible and updated on an annual basis.
Promising Practices: Toward Sustainability and Energy Efficiency
Most student transportation departments in Canada and the United States today focus primarily
on getting students to school on yellow school buses. Aside from the metrification of dashboard
instruments and French-language signage on some school buses, Canadian and US school buses
are practically identical, produced by the same manufacturers. Looking at student transportation
through the “yellow bus” lens, however, tends to obscure its real role: providing students with
access to education. The buses are entrusted, after all, with ensuring that students of all ages,
urban and rural, travel safely to and from school. In Atlantic Canada, they also provide a way for
students who live far away and those with disabilities to get to school. By focusing solely on
busing, however, student transportation officials miss a crucial opportunity to support students
and communities.
Student transportation is about more than school buses. Students also get to school by foot,
bicycle, car, and public transportation. Thus, decisions about how students travel to school affect
their health and safety, as well as traffic congestion, air pollution, and the health and safety of the
community at large (SRSNP 2014, 1). Achieving cost efficiencies through improved operational
effectiveness is only one half of the equation. The North American Safe Routes to School
movement, embraced by the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre, is opening our eyes to a new
vision of what is termed a “multi-modal student transportation system” (Ecology Action Centre
2011). Taking a more holistic approach, it should be possible to transform existing operations
into a support system that not only transports students safely, but is also good for student health,
academic engagement, community well-being, and environmental sustainability.
Active and Safe Routes to School
School buses, like walking and bicycling, are only one piece of the school transportation puzzle.
Although titles such as school transportation director seem to suggest a position that oversees all
transportation-related issues at a school or within a jurisdiction, in practice these positions tend
to focus heavily, if not solely, on bus-related transportation (SRSNP 2014, 4).
The mandates and role descriptions enshrined in school district policies give a clear indication of
their current focus and priorities. The initial clause (1.1) of the Student Transportation Policy of
Halifax Regional School Board reads: “the…Board will ensure that transportation service is
provided in a safe manner to eligible students,” where “eligible students” means bus students,
even though the pertinent section of the Education Act states “to provide for a publicly funded
school system whose primary mandate is to provide education programs and services for
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students to enable them to develop their potential and acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes
needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy” (HRSB
Perhaps the time has come to expand the mandate of school transportation policies to better serve
the actual needs of students and their families. Focusing more on preserving and protecting
walkable school communities would be a great place to start (Bennett 2013, 302). With such a
policy in place, school guidelines and school curriculum would be helpful in exposing students
to the full range of viable transportation options (Ecology Action Centre 2011). Making healthy
choices more feasible and viable would render provincial wellness initiatives such as Nova
Scotia’s Thrive! much more effective. Students and their families then would begin to see the
advantages of making choices that enhance a healthy society while promoting a prosperous and
sustainable economy.
Safe Routes Nova Scotia, a series of child/youth active transportation programs led by the
Ecology Action Centre (EAC), demonstrates the potential of such initiatives. Working with
school-based groups such as school administrations, parent-teacher associations, school advisory
councils, student groups, and school staff, as well as with youth and community organizations
and stakeholders from education, health, safety, recreation, trails, environment, law enforcement,
local government, transportation and planning sectors, the EAC takes a comprehensive approach
to increasing the adoption of active transportation habits by children and youth, making it easier
and safer for them to choose for themselves. The Safe Routes to School project neatly
summarizes the broad vision: “Active transportation means any non-motorized mode such as
walking, cycling, in-line skating, skateboarding, scootering, wheelchairing, cross-country skiing,
canoeing, etc. Our vision is a Nova Scotia where walking, cycling or using other forms of active
transportation is a popular and safe choice made by children, youth and their families for the trip
to and from school and other places kids go” (Ecology Action Centre 2014).
The EAC’s child/youth active transportation programs include School Travel Planning, Making
Tracks, the Walking School Bus, and more. Its work is part of a larger movement known as
Active and Safe Routes to School. The EAC is part of the Canadian Active & Safe Routes to
School Partnership, a national group working to increase use of active, sustainable, and safe
modes of transportation among school-aged children who travel to and from school. The aim is
to foster community cohesion and produce safer, calmer streets and neighbourhoods for active
transportation; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution from motor vehicles; to
increase physical activity; and to improve traffic safety (Ecology Action Centre 2014).
In the long run, student transportation departments could expand their mission by supporting
Safe Routes to School, walking and bicycling, and community well-being. In light of major
funding cuts to education and concerns regarding childhood obesity, student transportation
departments and Safe Routes to School proponents need to work together to help schools save
money, decrease traffic, increase community safety, and improve the health of children. With
prioritization of centrally located schools and those near residential areas where students are
concentrated, ease of walking and bicycling and low transportation costs would be built into the
system from the start (SRSNP 2014).
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Schools in Nova Scotia are showing more active interest in child and youth active transportation.
Since 2001, participation in Ecology Action Centre’s Walk to School Week/Month has grown
among the province’s 400 public and 25 private and independent schools. Starting with nine
schools in 2001, the program expanded to reach ninety-eight schools in 2010. Over 300 schools
and groups are reported to have participated in at least one aspect of EAC’s child and youth
programming between 2001 and 2010 (Ecology Action Centre 2014). Currently, child and youth
active transportation programming in Nova Scotia is coordinated by the EAC in partnership with
the Department of Health and Wellness as part of the Active Kids Healthy Kids Initiative. Safe
Routes Nova Scotia supporters in the 201415 school year include the Department of
Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the Department of Health and Wellness, the
Department of Energy, Mountain Equipment Co-op, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
School Bus Energy Efficiency Initiatives
Nova Scotia school boards understand that they have a duty to the public to operate student
transportation systems in a safe, reliable, and efficient manner. A number have introduced
management practices initially intended to cut costs and improve service. For example, the
Halifax Regional School Board contracts with Stock Transportation, a highly professional,
nationally known private school bus operator, and with Halifax Transit in urban communities, to
deliver student transportation services. Student bus pass programs remain limited, however, and
can be casualties at budget time, as noted above, when the HRSB cut passes for 225 high school
students (CTV News Atlantic 2012).
At the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board (CB-VRSB), the Pupil Transportation
Department manages the hiring, training, and support of bus drivers, bus scheduling, contact
conveyance, extracurricular trips, and fleet maintenance. Between 2011 and 2013, CB-VRSB
equipped its entire fleet of school buses with GPS tracking systems to monitor idle time, driver
performance, and effective route planning. The board-owned fleet also upgraded to sophisticated
route-planning software to reduce vehicle kilometres travelled. Savings of over $40,000 were
achieved within the first year of the project’s implementation (Clean Nova Scotia 2012).
Promising practices worthy of emulation elsewhere were clearly identified in Alberta in a 2007
comprehensive provincial school board transportation survey. The study, conducted by the
Alberta School Boards Association, produced this extensive list of local cost and energy
efficiency initiatives that were underway or being discussed seven years ago in that province:
regional transportation systems that eliminate duplication of services and improve
the effectiveness and efficiency of buses used;
staggered school times to reduce the number of buses required and improve
overall ride times;
use of large and small buses as situations dictate, as well as parent-provided
transportation on a limited necessary basis;
ordering of fuel-efficient engines and engine brakes to save on fuel and reduce
brake wear and maintenance costs;
transfer stops placed strategically to minimize the number of buses travelling on
the same roads;
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hiring drivers who live on the route;
mirrored runs to reduce ride times in urban areas so routes do not visit all schools;
elimination of double busing from feeder schools so high school students and
lower grades students share bus rides;
jointly tendered service with the public board, francophone board, and the
municipality, resulting in no duplication of services and reasonable costs; and
involvement of the bus drivers in some decisions about routes
Necessity has been the mother of innovation in Alberta, where financial restraint measures have
resulted in initiatives designed to maximize the efficiency of operations. Nonetheless, a large
number of school boards have experienced increasing difficulty making ends meet (ASBA
School Bus Use for Public Transportation
Traditionally, student transportation authorities have preferred to have separate transportation
systems for students and the general public. In many communities, however, having separate
systems is duplicative and wasteful. Public transit is often a safe, affordable, and convenient
supplement to traditional school buses, especially for middle and high school students (SRSNP
2014). In some countries, students are transported successfully to and from school without the
need of an exclusive school bus system, and where student conveyance is required, public transit
and private services adapt and expand.
In 2011, the rural Region of Queens Municipality, Nova Scotia, commissioned a study to explore
public transit opportunities. Naturally, existing school bus fleets and resources were major
community assets under consideration, and it was concluded that available school buses would
be among the most cost-effective, immediate resources available to support the design and
launch of a (limited) community transit service for the region (Habib 2011). Despite the
feasibility study’s recommendations, however, the community decided not to pursue the sharing
of school buses to adapt and advance a transit service among the general public.
Recently, the Town and County of Antigonish have taken up the cause. Working together, the
two municipalities launched their own Antigonish Community Transit service on September 15,
2014, and also submitted a resolution to the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM)
proposing that school buses be made available for the use of public transportation services. The
Antigonish Municipal resolution was discussed and accepted at the annual UNSM Fall
conference in November 2014 (Community Transit-Nova Scotia 2014).
Community Wheels, a public/community transit service operating in and around Chester, Nova
Scotia, is doing its part to fill the gap of affordable, accessible transportation during the critical
after-school period, when most traditional yellow school buses have already left the school
parking lot, leaving behind students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities. Its
wheelchair-accessible minibus allows a number of students to be transported at once, instead of
several smaller vehicles serving the same objective.
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27 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Robert Strang, has emerged as a champion of active
transportation that promotes the health and well-being of children and youth. Speaking in June
2014 at the Annual General Meeting of Community Transit-Nova Scotia, a non-profit
transportation advocacy group, he supported public initiatives aimed at providing Nova Scotians
with easier access to affordable transportation. “Sedentary behaviour is a health risk,” he stated,
then posed the key questions: “How can we build in options for walking and cycling in daily
life? In rural environments, how can we promote active as well as public transportation?” He
also saw a constructive role for school boards. “What if we took a different approach to schools
and made them the centre of the community?” he asked. “Chignecto-Central Regional School
Board has 20,000 students, 83 percent of whom ride the school bus. Is moving schools closer to
students part of the solution?” In his talk, Dr. Strang rose to the challenge posed by Ray Ivany in
his 2014 report, Now or Never Nova Scotia: “Let’s develop healthy communities in Nova Scotia:
safe, affordable, and connected socially.…A piece of the puzzle is taking a different approach to
transportation” (Strang 2014).
Yellow school buses are currently viewed as “school board property,” rather than as somewhat
underused community assets. Community Transit-Nova Scotia, inspired by local initiatives in
Queens County and the Antigonish region, is now urging the province and school boards to
establish partnerships with municipalities to establish new community transit services using
school buses during off-hours (Community Transit-Nova Scotia 2014). The overarching goal is
to use capital assets better to expand the public transit network, primarily in currently unserviced
districts of Nova Scotia. In addition to daily early morning and afternoon school runs,
community transit activists see the potential to serve a different clientele adults and seniors
needing a means to go to town for shopping and to get home from places of work. Instead of
tethering yellow buses to limited school support services, it is time to consider public demand for
services in rural and small-town Nova Scotia.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Supporting student learning in the classroom is, and should be, the priority for Atlantic Canada’s
publicly funded school systems. With student enrolment shrinking across the region and in all
but a few growing communities, budget pressures are mounting to streamline operations and
make the most efficient use of K-12 educational budgets. Although publicly disclosed data are
sparse, student transportation costs are eating up a greater and greater share of provincial and
school board education expenditures. Over the past thirty years, student transportation costs have
grown from 4 to 5 percent of school district budgets to 7 percent or more (Nova Scotia 2014b).
This rise in student transportation costs, reflected in overall costs and costs per student, is evident
in Nova Scotia when comparing school boards and in New Brunswick when surveying reported
increases in provincial costs for student transportation services (School Bus Fleet, various
A thorough review of student transportation in Nova Scotia reveals that, unlike most areas of
public education, this area of operations has escaped close scrutiny and, much like in Ontario,
attracted “little strategic oversight by most school boards” (Ontario 2014, 2). Surveying Nova
Scotia’s eight school boards, it is clear that route planning continues to be delegated mostly to
contracted or in-house operators. Some school boards, such as Chignecto-Central, Tri-County,
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28 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
and the South Shore regional boards, offer generous busing arrangements to parents affected by
proposed school closures to assist in advancing their school consolidation plans. In Chignecto-
Central, a school district where 82.3 percent of the 22,400 students are already bused, School
Assessment Review reports contain no analysis of the impact of further school closures on either
the total bused population or student transportation costs. Elected school board members also see
offering enhanced student transportation as an immediate way of responding to constituents’
concerns. In some boards, school bus operators are still viewed as “partners” in service delivery,
rather than “vendors” accountable for finding cost or energy efficiencies.
Student transportation services are ripe for reform not only in Nova Scotia but in neighbouring
Maritime provinces in Atlantic Canada. In view of our findings, provincial and school board
policymakers would be well advised to take their cue from the major Student Transportation
Reform initiative under way in Ontario, building upon local board transportation sharing projects
and, since 2006, part of a province-wide cost-management and efficiency strategy. That overall
policy, developed in collaboration with a few lead boards, is pursuing improved accountability in
student transportation, building school board capacity to deliver safe, effective, and efficient
services, and reducing the administrative burden on school boards. All of these measures are
converging to advance a fundamental policy goal: allowing school boards to focus more on their
core businessnamely, student achievement (Ontario 2014, 1).
The Ontario Student Transportation Reform Strategy involved three distinct phases of policy
changes. In the initial phase, the seventy-two Ontario school boards took the initiative to
establish joint board consortia for student transportation services. Out of that phase emerged
thirty-three joint board service consortia, which, in a second phase, were required to undergo an
effectiveness and efficiency (E&E) review. Three years after their establishment, an independent
team of consultants reviewed each of the individual consortia, examining four elements of their
operations: governance and management structure; transportation, special needs, and safety
policies and practices; scheduling software, data systems, and reporting; and competitive
procurement, contracting, and performance management. The final stage, based on E&E review
findings and clear performance benchmarks, aims to implement best practices in the joint sharing
of student transportation services.
The Ontario Student Transportation Reform is producing results in terms of cost-management
effectiveness and cost efficiencies. Some fifteen of the thirty-three provincial consortia have
been established as distinct legal entities, and the Ontario government claims tangible savings of
$82.1 million over the past eight years. Comprehensive transportation policies and practices are
in place that focus on student safety first, then effective and efficient operations. Attracting and
training stronger student transportation management has produced dividends, driving change,
upgrading skills, and embracing more innovative business practices. Transportation deficits have
been reduced in rural and isolated boards, and significant cost savings have been reported as a
result of efficient route planning and more competitive procurement. Those savings, in turn, have
allowed more resources to be invested in classrooms or to improve student transportation service
delivery levels (Ontario 2014, 2).
Provincial student transportation coordinators and district managers comfortable in their current,
established roles are naturally reticent to embrace new and unfamiliar governance or
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29 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
management models promising significant cost savings. A June 2010 feature article in School
Bus Fleet magazine examining the potential of joint transportation ventures captures well the
reticence found in most school board transportation departments. While acknowledging the
growing “battle cry” for multiple districts to combine services, the author, Michael Dallessandro,
focuses on the main reservations expressed by district-level operations managers. For those
immersed in the delivery of daily bus services, it is easy to see the thicket of complex obstacles
confronting proponents of shared services. Dellassandro identifies these obstacles as assuring
quality of service in an expanded service area; establishing clear lines of communication among
multiple carriers; harmonizing school and district school day calendars; deciding which schools
arrive early and which ones stay late; rationalizing school day cancellation practices; and
resolving possible discipline code variations.
Veteran student transportation managers are often skeptical about general claims that school
busing costs can be fairly compared between one district and another. In July 2013, Don Ross
took to the pages of School Bus Fleet to argue that “all states and districts are not created equal,”
rendering cross-district cost comparisons somewhat problematic. Given the ad hoc, highly
variable nature of most district student transportation operations, it can be difficult to compare
costs. Costs per kilometre and per student are generally accepted benchmarks, but some
education budgets include vehicle maintenance while others do not, particularly where such costs
are managed by another government department. Frequency of road accidents can affect overall
costs, especially where body shop and repair services are contracted out to local businesses.
Some school bus operations are unionized and others are not, affecting driver pay rates and
employee benefits (Ross 2013). It is only wise, then, to do your homework before accepting at
face value extravagant claims of cost savings or even of overexpenditures.
Student transportation reform will come to Nova Scotia and other Maritime provinces when
mounting cost pressures impel provinces and school boards to begin to look for more innovative
ways to achieve cost efficiencies. We strongly suggest that the initial impetus should come from
school districts themselves demonstrating the value and effectiveness of cooperative initiatives
and joint board consortia. In that respect, Ontario and, to a lesser extent, Alberta provide
important lessons on how this can be achieved and the real benefits in terms of more efficient
and effective use of resources. Joint transportation initiatives in Ontario have already
demonstrated the tangible cost savings and tremendous advantages of improved business
practices flowing from the effective use of route scheduling technology and ridership data
analysis. Consortia have emerged to assume sector-wide responsibility for “continuous
improvement” and redirecting more education tax dollars into the classroom (Ontario 2014, 3).
In the absence of visible local school district initiatives in Maritime Atlantic Canada, a
comprehensive provincial audit of student transportation expenditures might well be needed to
provide the catalyst. That audit, we believe, would only confirm the initial findings contained in
this exploratory policy research report.
Key Recommendations
The time is ripe for provincial and school district authorities to tackle the growth in student
transportation expenditures. Without compromising student safety, immediate steps should be
taken to rein in growing student transportation costs and to find cost and energy efficiencies in
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30 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
this often-neglected domain of educational operations. Daily student busing is eating up an
increasing slice of the K-12 education budget. Mounting provincial deficits and tightening
education budgets suggest that provinces and school districts should look first to educational
support services in pursuit of cost savings. Forming joint transportation services encompassing
coterminous boards is a proven success, as demonstrated in both Alberta and Ontario. Once that
is achieved, the harder work will be to implement transportation management and a whole range
of new business practices based on the latest advances in data collection and analysis, route
scheduling software, energy efficiency, and improved point-of-service daily operations. The
following recommendations provide a strategic roadmap to help governments and school boards
introduce needed changes in the field of student transportation services.
Recommendation 1: Seed and support the joint sharing of student transportation services
Seize the opportunity to embrace the concept and best practice of the shared use of student
transportation services, encompassing governance, facilities, vehicles, and support programs.
Start by developing school district transportation management capacity, providing financial
incentives and resource support to school districts and boards, enabling them to initiate
amalgamated student transportation services, preferably using the joint board consortium model.
Recommendation 2: Review rural student transportation services
Assess the impact of school consolidation on student transportation costs and on student wellness
and well-being, and review current funding formulas based on a population density grid.
Recommendation 3: Review special education transportation services
Support the integration of special education students, both mentally and physically handicapped,
where possible, into regular school bus runs, providing differential funding at a higher rate for
students designated to receive enhanced special needs support services.
Recommendation 4: Close the provincial-school district funding gap
Address the current inadequacy of provincial funding tied to standard walk limits of 3.6 km or
2.4 km, recognizing that districts and boards are compelled to subsidize most bused students,
particularly in rural and remote areas or in densely populated areas subdivided by major
highways or traffic arteries.
Recommendation 5: Achieve improved route management and energy efficiencies
Develop regional student transportation systems that embrace and implement leading practices,
such as:
contracting out services to achieve cost efficiencies and lower costs per student;
joint tendering bus contracts involving coterminous school districts/boards (English
public, French public; special education authorities);
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31 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
eliminating the duplication of bus service routes operated by coterminous school
implementing double bus runs and staggered school times where feasible;
using city-operated transit systems by providing student bus passes for junior high,
middle school, and high school students;
reducing route lengths by establishing common collection points for students attending
high school alternative programs and drawn from dispersed geographic areas;
ordering replacement buses with fuel-efficient engines and engine brakes to save on fuel
consumption and reduce brake maintenance costs;
introducing computerized route-mapping software to find the shortest and most cost-
effective bus routes and safest walking routes.
Recommendation 6: Support community plans for multi-modal active transportation
Embrace Community Transit-Nova Scotia and Ecology Action Centre proposals to create,
preserve, and protect walkable school communities by supporting and investing in local “Safe
Routes to School” initiatives, including in-school curricula, aimed at ensuring safe routes to bus
stops and increasing the proportion of students walking and bicycling to school.
Recommendation 7: Establish two pilot consortia as models of best practice
Initiate and fund the establishment of two pilot project models of joint board consortia
exemplifying best practice in shared governance and the management of transportation services,
targeted to test the model in both urban and primarily rural school districts.
Recommendation 8: Examine the feasibility of a Nova Scotia-wide joint services strategy
Initiate a province-wide public discussion in Nova Scotia focusing on the feasibility of merging
student transportation services between the Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial and its seven
coterminous English-language school boards.
Recommendation 9: Develop and implement reliable performance measures
Establish clear service standards for student transportation and then a set of performance
measures, using established effectiveness and efficiency criteria and route-management software,
tracking key indicators, including walking limits, student ride times, special program support
costs, and school closure impact studies.
Recommendation 10: Undertake provincial audits of student transportation services
Formally request the provincial auditor in each province to include a comprehensive audit of
student transportation services in the next cycle of provincial audits so as to provide a financial
performance benchmark and identify specific areas of concern and reasonable cost-reduction
Education on Wheels: Seizing Cost and Energy Efficiency Opportunities in Student Transportation
32 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
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35 © 2015 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies
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... Reducing the number of district offices to four, Halifax and three other regional offices, makes better sense and generates far more revenue than will actually be needed to design, develop, and build a robust school-level governance system. It would also provide more of an incentive to achieve greater cost efficiencies through the proven strategy of joint consortia for shared services, including financial services, transportation, purchasing, networked learning, and community services (Howley, Johnson, and Petrie, 2011b;Bennett and Gillis, 2015). ...
Full-text available
School days lost are gone forever. Missing a major chunk of the school year because of storm day closures can wreak havoc on students, eroding valuable class time, breaking continuity, disrupting tests and examinations, and sewing seeds of division between unionized teachers excused from duty and support staff left behind in empty schools. That is why the vast majority of Canadian school boards seek to preserve teaching time and resist the temptation to cancel school and give kids "the day off" at the first sign of inclement weather. Yet in Atlantic Canada it is different. Storm day closures are a regular occurrence and the rather unique phenomenon of "throw-away" school days is now a deeply ingrained tradition. Student safety on the roads, we are told, always trumps other factors in the Atlantic region. Closing schools is treated as a local matter best left to the school boards and rarely raised a serious matter warranting provincial intervention. In spite of record numbers of school day cancellations in 2008-09, a Nova Scotia report on School Storm Days gave the local boards "good grades." Repeatedly cancelling school has a disruptive effect upon students, families, and teachers. A careful analysis of the impact of "Throw-away Days" in Nova Scotia and neighbouring Atlantic provinces demonstrates that the high incidence of such disruptions can exact "collateral damage" on students as well as the public school system. The number and frequency of school closures in Nova Scotia, particularly during the 2008-09 school year, had an impact on student learning, especially in high schools already beset by chronic student attendance problems.
This article has suggested that self-financing pupil transportation programs may be more equitable and efficient than those financed from state and local general revenues, eliminating this subsidy implicitly makes more funds available for other public school purposes, for non-school purposes, or for tax reductions. Moreover, pupil transportation programs which determine the eligibility of pupils on the basis of their distance from school discriminate against urban school systems and cause them to receive a disproportionately small amount of state funds. Urban school systems apparently would benefit if subsidies for pupil transportation were eliminated and an equivalent amount of funds were allocated to other programs of state aid to elementary and secondary education. Subsidized pupil transportation programs have a negative impact on the development of urban public transportation systems when the two are not regarded as interrelated components of a single system. They have joint problems capable of joint solutions.
School districts spend approximately $17 billion annually on pupil transportation. More than half of all students in the United States are eligible for transportation at public expense. Despite this major financial investment and the large number of daily student trips, relatively little scholarly material is written on funding for pupil transportation. This article provides research background on pupil transportation funding, establishes a comprehensive framework of analysis for evaluating methods of state funding, and presents case studies of six states to highlight institutional differences. The key questions about state pupil transportation policy are (a) whether pupil transportation is mandated by the state, (b) what the eligibility requirements are for state aid, and (c) what formula is used for reimbursement. Funding for pupil transportation varies greatly among states, with differences that include student eligibility for transportation, funding formulas, and state aid as a percentage of transportation costs. The primary method of pupil transportation funding consists of state reimbursement for a portion of a school district's expenditures. The remaining costs must then be covered by local funding sources. Unlike some other areas of school finance, pupil transportation programs receive little funding from the federal government. The research also identifies safety, school siting, and walking to school as areas in which pupil transportation policies have important impacts.
Student transportation makes up a substantial portion of a typical school district’s operating budget, and sub-contracting bus service to private firms has been advanced by some as a way to reduce transportation costs. Previous studies have found conflicting evidence regarding the cost impact of privatization. This paper seeks to improve on previous studies by estimating cost equations using data that spans six school-years. The primary result is that privatization acts to substantially increase transportation costs. Estimates using a pooled cross section predicted that going from fully outsourced to fully in house reduced costs by approximately 15.8%,
This paper presents a cost function for the pupil transportation industry in Minnesota. In-house provision of transportation was not shown to be more costly than outsourcing. Large contractors may seek the most profitable contracts in urban and suburban areas, while showing little interest in contracting opportunities in rural school districts.
At the breaking point: Alberta's student transportation system
Alberta School Boards Association (2008). At the breaking point: Alberta's student transportation system. Edmonton: ASBA, May 2008.