Pembina Trails gears up for busing blueprint alterations


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Busing changes in the Pembina Trails School Division will result in new start and dismissal times across south Winnipeg in 2023-24, but senior administration says schedules are unlikely to extend beyond the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/08/2022 (231 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Busing changes in the Pembina Trails School Division will result in new start and dismissal times across south Winnipeg in 2023-24, but senior administration says schedules are unlikely to extend beyond the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

In a June 29 email, superintendent Ted Fransen informed families the division would be updating its transportation model for “increased fleet utilization and efficiency.”

The division’s overall population growth and quirks of some new neighbourhood developments have resulted in unprecedented demand for busing, Fransen wrote.

Pembina Trails’ response is to create new central pick-up spots, on feeder streets, wherever possible, in turn reducing total stops per trip so students spend less time in transit and drivers can service more than one route.

Coming into effect next month, the initial changes will require students to walk a little bit further to catch a ride to class. Division leaders will start informing families about updated bus stops before the end of August.

The second stage of the rollout will affect bell times in schools and as a result, nearby daycare hours.

“This is by no means a made-in-Pembina-Trails solution. Many other school divisions do (double-routing),” Fransen said during an interview Thursday. “It’s a good use of resources.”

The superintendent said change is necessary due to his division being the fastest growing in Winnipeg and the reality there is a single elementary building located in Waverley West, a growing suburb the population size of Brandon.

Student numbers have risen by 20 per cent since 2011. Roughly 2,500 of its more than 15,000 learners, including all students with disabilities, regardless of their home address, are eligible for school transportation at present.

In order to qualify for busing, elementary school students must live more than 1.6 kilometres from their catchment school. The division only provides free transportation to students in Grade 7 and up if their closest Winnipeg Transit stop is upwards of one km from their doorstep.

Families can purchase seat sales, depending on availability and that will remain the case when the transportation model is updated.

Since there is no high school in Waverley West and the City of Winnipeg continues to install public transit infrastructure in the area, Fransen said Pembina Trails transports a substantial number of teenage residents. The opening of Bison Run School and Pembina Trails Collegiate next year will alleviate some but not all transportation pressures.

Among the division parents, Thomas Rempel-Ong wants to know why it cannot add stock to its bus fleet or hire more drivers in order to reduce disruptions.

Rempel-Ong counts himself lucky his family could drive his daughter, who is entering Grade 4 in the fall, to school in the future if busing became inconvenient. However, he said many families do not have that luxury, and the prospect of introducing different start times across schools could greatly impact parents with multiple children of varying ages.

“Ultimately, my worry is that there will be parents left scrambling,” he said.

Fransen said there is existing “unevenness” in school schedules families already navigate.

New start and end times will be up for discussion and likely only adjusted by 15 to 30 minutes, he said, noting the division issued a letter at the end of the 2021-22 school year so families were given significant advance notice.

One of the reasons for the updated blueprint is the fact Pembina Trails has run out of space to park buses, per senior administration. Not only is land hard to come by in the division, but it is incredibly expensive to purchase, Fransen said.

Last year, parents in the division expressed concerns about lengthy wait times and drivers not showing up, among other issues.

Fransen said the challenges — which he attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertainty around public health orders, and internal inefficiency — have “absolutely been resolved,” following an internal review of the division’s transportation department.

Divisions across the province have also grappled with a bus driver shortage throughout the pandemic.

The school board has hired four new drivers, none of whom have been assigned regular routes, as on-call staff members who can fill-in if a driver is sick in 2022-23.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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