About two weeks before the start of the school year, the deadlock between the transportation companies and the school network remains, leaving thousands of students in Montreal, Quebec, Sherbrooke and Gatineau at risk of being robbed of buses when returning to class.
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This year, around 60% of student transport contracts expired at the end of June and now have to be extended by a few years.
However, school boards are refusing to sign new contracts, believing that the bonus granted by Quebec under budget rules at the end of June is not enough to offset the increase in costs.
“Unfortunately, the bonus is not enough to allow hauliers to cover all costs such as fuel, labour, parts for maintenance and repairs, which have experienced an astounding increase,” says Luc Lafrance, President and CEO of the Bus Carriers Federation.
The Fédération des centers de services scolaire du Québec (FCSSQ), on the other hand, considers that “all the conditions are now in place to reach the conclusion of negotiated agreements”.
Big problem centers
Some agreements have recently been made in the regions, but it is precisely in the large centers that “this presents a problem” because the increase in costs is greater there, specifies Luc Lafrance.
The cost of parking for buses in the metropolis is higher than in Gaspésie, he says.
As a result, students from Montreal, Quebec, Sherbrooke and Gatineau could find themselves without transportation at the start of the school year. The risk is very real, acknowledges Mr Lafrance.
“We’re still in talks with the ministry, we wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but it might happen,” he says.
Looking for a plan B
In the school network, we are preparing for all eventualities, but postponing the start of the school year is out of the question. “All schools will provide educational services according to the school calendar. Nevertheless, the school service centers are analyzing possible solutions to welcome the students at the beginning of the school year,” said Caroline Dupré, President and CEO of the FCSSQ, who limited himself to a statement in a press release yesterday.
According to the federation, Quebec has invested an additional $200 million in school transportation since 2017, an increase of more than 30%.
Education Minister Jean-François Roberge wanted to calm down. “I am convinced that we will find solutions and that the children will be transported when the school year starts,” he told the Journal on Wednesday.
This is a priority file that is “top of the pile” and discussed daily, he added.
School transport in Quebec
- About 11,000 bus drivers
- More than 556,315 students are promoted every day
- Almost 943,690 kilometers driven daily
- More than 10,970 school vehicles on the streets in the morning and evening
Source: Association of Bus Companies
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