Yellowknife parents, trustees search for solutions as more school bus routes get cancelled

Taya Burke and her son, Corbin. Burke recently tried to get a school bus pass for her kids, but found out the route they needed was cancelled indefinitely. (Submitted by Taya Burke - image credit)
Taya Burke and her son, Corbin. Burke recently tried to get a school bus pass for her kids, but found out the route they needed was cancelled indefinitely. (Submitted by Taya Burke - image credit)

After building up her savings over the Christmas holiday, Taya Burke was finally ready to buy her kids a school bus pass. Instead, she discovered the route they needed had been cancelled.

Burke, who moved back to Yellowknife in November from Nova Scotia, had initially been shocked to learn it would cost her a couple hundred dollars per child for bus service — a fee she couldn't afford right away, as a single parent just getting settled in the city.

Now, she's one of many families looking for alternatives to get their kids to school.

"I'm back to square one, driving the kids to school every day. And now, starting a new job, I'm going to have to lean on some family friends to act as chauffeurs for my kids after school so I can start working full-time," she said.

In recent weeks, First Transit — the contractor that provides busing service in Yellowknife — announced the indefinite cancellation of three bus routes because the company doesn't have enough drivers.

Those include Bus 10, which stopped running as of Jan. 3; Bus 12, which stopped as of Jan. 9; and Bus 9, which stopped as of Jan. 16.

Each time, First Transit has sent out tweets about the cancellations, apologizing for the inconvenience and promising updates as the situation changes.

A spokesperson for First Transit was not available for an interview Wednesday.

Yellowknife Public Education District No. 1 board chair David Wasylciw said the topic prompted a lengthy discussion at the board's regular January meeting on Tuesday.

Wasylciw said there's no news yet to share on what the board plans to do, but parents have been bringing forward suggestions, which the school district has been examining.

"Hang tight — we're trying to find solutions," he said. "As soon as we know something, the board will be letting people know."

One possibility the board discussed at Tuesday's meeting included whether they could get more spaces in after-school programs, something that would ultimately be up to the territory's Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

"Part of it is just finding outside-the-box solutions," he said.

"That doesn't directly solve it, but it might help some families."

Submitted by David Wasylciw
Submitted by David Wasylciw

He said they're on the hunt for other short-term fixes, but that won't happen right away — there's a limit to how much they can change the school bus system in a short amount of time, and any major changes would have to wait.

"We know administration's working really diligently on trying to find a solution for this school year, and knowing that maybe there has to be some rethinking or some changes for next year. But we can't totally upend the whole system right now," he said.

"We have to figure out how to make the way it's set up work."

Yellowknife's school bus system involves all three school districts working together to contract First Transit. Funding for busing comes from the education department, as well as from user fees paid for by parents.

Sara Komarnisky, whose kindergarten-aged child was on a route that got cancelled, said they're missing having a school bus — it makes their day more hectic. Her daughter had just started taking the bus in November.

Submitted by Sara Komarnisky
Submitted by Sara Komarnisky

"She loved riding the bus. It was a lot easier in the mornings to just send her down the road with all the neighbour kids and pick her up at the end of the day," Komarnisky said.

"Her bus driver was really nice and very sweet to the kids, too. So we're definitely missing the bus system."

Wasylciw said he's hopeful something will happen in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, if parents are facing major problems due to the route cancellations, he encourages them to reach out to their school district.

"We really understand the difficulty," he said. "It's really frustrating, and it's one that we wish we could just fix super-easily ... Everyone's really eager to find a workable solution."