Local parents are questioning the safety features of Jasper’s special school transportation service.
Jennifer Stolfa, a Jasper mom of three, wants to know why the vehicle which brings students to and from school each day doesn’t look like every other bus that has the same job description.
When the school transportation service started in September, Stolfa was excited to put her kids on the bus. But then on the first day of school, she was surprised to see a white, unmarked bus pull up instead of a standard, yellow school bus with flashing lights and a stop sign.
“I assumed the yellow lighted school bus was just delayed due to the quick planning of it all,” Stolfa recalled.
However, when she inquired with the Grande Yellowhead Public School Division (GYPSD), Stolfa learned that there were no plans to change the service, other than to sticker the white bus with Jasper Transit logos. She was unsatisfied with both the response she received from GYPSD, and the one she got from the Municipality of Jasper—which operates Jasper Transit and has partnered with GYPSD to operate the special school service.
Both the MOJ and GYPSD told her that the student transportation service is not actually a school bus.
“The Jasper Transit bus is not a school bus but a School Special Route Service provided by the municipality,” GYPSD’s Director of Transportation Services, Christine Van Neck, told Stolfa in a September 21 email.
Municipality of Jasper CAO Bill Given told The Jasper Local a similar message.
“The student special transit route is different than a school bus,” Given said. “It falls under different legislation.”
Those messages haven’t allayed Stolfa’s concerns.
“The messaging was not clear with parents,” Stolfa said. “I feel differently about the expectations of putting my child on a public transit bus as opposed to a school bus.”
According to the Alberta Traffic Safety Act, buses primarily used for transporting students have to comply with certain standards—they must be “national school bus yellow,” for example, and must have the words “School Bus” on it. By suggesting the Jasper Transit bus isn’t a school bus because it is used for other services besides transporting pupils, and is thereby exempt from these regulations, Stolfa said GYPSD and the MOJ are “playing the word game.”
“Ultimately, I believe a yellow, lighted school bus, complying with all school bus regulations is the safest choice for our children,” Stolfa said.
Dale Karpluk is the chair of the board of school trustees for GYPSD. Karpluk has been “kept in the loop” regarding parents’ bus concerns, and although she thinks all programs involving students should “err on the side of caution,” the Jasper trustee said she believes GYPSD administration is operating a safe bus service.
“Everyone appears to be doing their dead-level best to ensure the students are safe,” Karpluk said.
GYPSD’s response to The Jasper Local’s inquiries noted that the school board and the municipality’s partnership goes above and beyond the required transportation services which will come into effect in September 2024. At that time, changes to the distance criteria for eligible student transportation will ensure K-6 kids who live more than 1 km away from the school, and Grade 7-12 students who live 2 kms or further, have a bus option (the criteria is currently 2.4 kms). The fact that in-town students have a transportation option at all this year is a bonus, the board said.
“In establishing our commitment to the success and longevity of the Jasper Transit initiative, we extended an invitation to these ineligible families to make use of this transit service in advance of next year if they so wished,” GYPSD said in an emailed response.
“Both [school] divisions and the municipality have received overwhelming positive feedback from parents making use of this new optional service,” the email continued.
Despite GYPSD and the MOJ telling Stolfa that her safety concerns are isolated, other parents have expressed similar apprehensions. During the same week that GYPSD sent out School Bus Safety Week messaging (this year’s theme was “Stand Back From Yellow and Black”), Jasper parent Megan LeBlanc took a closer look at the white school bus that was bringing her kids to school every day. She noticed the bus was using its flashing amber lights, which was appreciated, but the lack of stop signs‚ and the fact that it doesn’t look like a school bus, still bothered her.
“I think sometimes we think we can ignore certain safety standards in Jasper because it’s so small and such a slow paced place in terms of traffic,” LeBlanc said. “But kids crossing the street is a safety concern no matter where you are. Every safety standard that’s followed in larger centres, should also be adhered to in Jasper.”
Given explained that the white Jasper Transit bus needs to serve double duty as a regular public transit service vehicle, adding that parents and families have a role to play in ensuring the safety of students.
“All of us as parents have a responsibility for our children before they get on and after they get off the bus,” Given said.
He added that the municipality has heard more feedback requesting tweaks to Jasper Transit’s schedule and increased service, than they have about school route safety concerns.
“It can be difficult to assess how widely this concern is shared,” Given said.
Bob Covey // email@example.com