School board votes to expand free transport for students

Changes to transportation rules for Ottawa secondary students could see more Centretown students getting a free ride to Lisgar or Glebe high schools.

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustees voted this week  to expand transportation options for secondary students at public expense, according to board spokesperson Sharlene Hunter.

The proposed change would guarantee that all qualified students from Grade 9 to 12 attending designated schools in the OCDSB would receive board-supplied transportation services starting in September 2014.

Students would need to live at least 3.2 kilometres from their home schools in order to qualify for the service.

Currently, only students attending designated schools and living outside the urban transit area – anywhere more than one kilometre from an OC Transpo bus stop – are eligible for transportation services, in addition to those who live within the area but whose home school is outside the area, Holtzhauer says.

School board chair Jennifer McKenzie, trustee for the zone that covers much of Centretown, says most high school students in Centretown live within the designated and may not necessarily benefit from expanded school bus service. Instead, the school board would provide them with alternative transportation options, she says.

“We don’t have yellow school bus service in the downtown core, nor are we likely to get it any time soon, so what we may end up doing is handing out bus passes to students who have to walk further than the 3.2 kilometres,” McKenzie says.

Vicky Kyriaco, general manager and chief administrative officer of the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority, says the organization selects different modes of transportation to move students depending on their location.

These options include yellow buses, public transportation, or small vans, Kyriaco says. She confirmed that students at schools such as the Lisgar Collegiate are more likely to just be given public transit passes.

“When we have students who are very spread out and there are lots of kilometres between them, we find that public transit is more effective and cost efficient,” Kyriaco says.

“That way we aren’t sending yellow buses all over the roads for long periods of time trying to collect small numbers of students. Those who cannot have yellow buses, because they’re in Centretown, would receive public transit passes and they would take city buses.”

These passes currently cost students under 19 approximately $78.75 per month, while students over 19 have to pay nearly $100 for the 10-month school year, according to Kyriaco.

“The cost essentially transfers from the student to the school board,” she says.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board already provides all high school students with bus services if they meet the distance criteria.

“For me personally, this is a huge disparity in services between boards, that this motion seeks to correct,” says Katie Holtzhauer, one of the trustees who sponsored the motion.