The transport of students by yellow bus may be disrupted when the school year begins, in two weeks. School service centers in all regions of Quebec are warning parents to plan an alternative solution because negotiations for the renewal of contracts with carriers remain deadlocked after nine months of intense discussions.
“It is important for the parents of the students concerned to know that there could be a breakdown in school transport service at the start of the school year. If there are no school buses (or sedans, if applicable), parents of students using school transportation will have to find other means to drop off and pick up their children at school, and this, for an indefinite period”, indicates a message from the Center de services scolaire des Grandes-Seigneuries, in Montérégie, sent to parents this week.
“Unfortunately, despite the revised and improved offer from the Government of Quebec, school bus operators consider that the amounts offered are not sufficient to offset the increase in their operating costs. To date, we have not been able to come to an agreement. Therefore, if no agreement is reached by the start of the school year, transportation may not be available for students, ”says a letter to parents of the English school board Western Quebec, in Outaouais.
These possible disruptions to school transport affect all regions. Students in urban centers like Montreal, especially those in secondary school, would be less affected, however, because they go to school by public transport.
The Federation of bus carriers (FTA) confirms that discussions are continuing with Quebec with a view to reaching an agreement before the return to class, scheduled for the penultimate week or the last week of August, depending on the centers of school services.
” There is a lot of work [de négociation] is being done, but there is still a margin between our requests and the offers”, indicates Luc Lafrance, general manager of the FTA.
Carriers are demanding 20% to 25% rate increases for student travel due to skyrocketing fuel, vehicle maintenance and labor costs. The electrification of school transportation also adds pressure on carriers, who must pay more than $50,000 extra per electric bus, underlines Mr. Lafrance.
Negotiations for the renewal of the bus drivers’ employment contracts are due to take place during the fall. The drivers, who earn an average of $20,000 a year, are demanding significant salary increases, warned the CSN. The union estimates that there is a shortage of 1,500 yellow bus drivers in Quebec. The average age of drivers is high. Many are of retirement age and have given up the job because of the risks to their health due to the pandemic.
“We risk having strike mandates in the middle of the school year,” says Luc Lafrance. We do not want it, but we are in a context of financial uncertainty. »
100 million on the table
The Ministry of Education emphasizes that it is the school service centers that negotiate with the carriers. “However, the Ministry is working with the school network to support them in this operation. […] We are confident of arriving at a solution that will allow us to offer our students, as of the next school year, a quality and safe service,” said Esther Chouinard, spokesperson for the ministry.
The Fédération des centers de services scolaire du Québec (FCSSQ) has indicated that the financial assistance program for bus drivers amounts to more than $35 million in 2022-2023. Transition assistance for electrification totals more than $7.7 million. The indexation associated with fuel amounts to more than 38.5%, while that related to other expenses is established according to the CPI-Quebec (5.8% as of May 31).
The Federation of Parents’ Committees of Quebec (FCPQ) urges the parties to reach an agreement before returning to school. “School transportation is an essential service for most parents,” emphasizes Kévin Roy, President of the FCPQ.
He would like parents to be notified as soon as possible in the event of a service breakdown so that they can find a plan B for transporting their children. “It’s not easy, especially for single parents who have atypical schedules, like nurses. »