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Transit gets a pass from school district

The first report card is in on public transportation.
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So far, so good. Jasper Transit has met Grande Yellowhead Public School Division’s approval after its first month of service. Pictured, a school bus from last year's pilot program. | Supplied photo

Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD) gave Jasper Transit good grades after its first month of service to the community and to families with schoolchildren.

“While there were a few hiccups initially with the schedule, the service has been overwhelmingly appreciated by the families and provides a foundation for a sustainable transit model for the community,” said Kelly Harding, Assistant Superintendent with the school district, in an email to the Fitzhugh.

Those hiccups were primarily related to staffing.

“As you may know, GYPSD ran a school bus pilot last year to the Jasper Park Lodge to collect data on its use by the JPL families,” Harding said.

“We received positive feedback throughout the pilot, but issues with flexibility and staffing were noted. Students wanting to participate in early morning or afternoon school activities and teams still required transportation provided by their parents.”

GYPSD also struggled to maintain a permanent driver for the school bus during the pilot. It started the year with a spare driver from Hinton before hiring and training two different drivers for full-time work, both of whom eventually left their employment.

After several weeks of no bus service, the pilot project was completed with a new driver in June.

All school divisions province-wide are struggling to hire school bus drivers, Harding said. This is mainly because the role is part-time and requires both early morning and mid-afternoon commitments.

“Most people looking for part-time hours are not interested in a split shift, and drivers with Class 2 licenses can readily find full-time employment with good wages in the transportation industry,” she said.

“Partnering with the municipality allows for a school special designated route just for the eligible riders, and the flexibility of alternative route times to support older students at the high school.”

She said that GYPSD is pleased to collaborate with the municipality and the Francophone board to develop a sustainable transit service for Jasper students.

Starting next September, Alberta Education will be mandating new distance criteria for eligible students down from 2.4 km (from the student’s primary residence to the school) to 1.0 km for students up to Grade 6 and 2.0 km for students in Grades 7 to 12.

GYPSD chose to implement the new distances this school year in preparation for this upcoming change as well as to build capacity for the transit initiative.

“The lead time provides space for our partners to refine operations and evolve the initiative as it grows,” Harding said.

To support its stakeholders, especially those who are not familiar with transit service, GYPSD developed a comprehensive information guide to help build everyone’s understanding of new roles and responsibilities.

For now, things keep trucking along.

“We have enjoyed working with the municipality,” Harding said.

“They have been responsive to our feedback, and their solution-focused approach to improving the school special service has been appreciated.”

GYPSD’s Jasper parents can email the transportation director for information regarding the transit initiative and for assistance accessing the school special service at [email protected].

Editor's note: The school bus is currently white and not yellow.