School Buses vs. Transit Buses:

Ontario School Bus Association Cost and Safety Comparison

Safety of School Buses

The Ontario School Bus Association (OSBA) believes that safety and security are the first priorities of student transportation. According to Transport Canada, the yellow and black school bus is the safest mode of student transportation for children - in terms of construction, driver standards training and passenger safety. The following are a few important points about the safety of school buses:

  • According to Transport Canada, on a per passenger, per kilometer basis, the occupants of school buses are 16 times less likely to be injured in road collisions than the occupants of any other motor vehicle.
  • Children sit in specially designed, high-backed, thickly padded seats, which cushion them in the event of a collision. These are not required safety features for municipal transit vehicles.
  • Red flashing lights and a stop arm halt traffic in both directions when children are boarding or leaving a school bus. These safety features are also not required on municipal transit vehicles.
  • Construction and equipment standards for school buses are controlled by more federal and provincial government regulations than any other vehicle on the road. School buses must meet stringent standard for such features as structural integrity, crash protection, fire retardancy and emergency equipment.
  • School bus drivers receive 20 to 40 hours of specialized training, including written exams and road tests. They must also complete ongoing certified driver improvement courses and take periodic re-examinations. Driving records and criminal records are screened and regular medical exams are required.
  • Drivers are subject to exacting laws controlling fatigue such as, how many consecutive hours they are allowed to work, how long their breaks must be, etc. Municipal drivers are not subject to these laws.
  • While traveling on municipal transit buses, children may have to stand and, as a result, could be jostled in crowded aisles or even fall at a sudden stop. They are also exposed to strangers while unsupervised. On school buses, drivers know the passengers and supervise them; no standing is allowed on the bus and children are safe from potential harassment or crime as they ride only with their peers.
  • School bus routes are planned around the location of children's homes and schools. Drivers are responsible for making sure that each student is picked up and dropped off at a designated location.

Cost Effectiveness of Private Student Transportation

The Ontario School Bus Association (OSBA) is concerned about a growing shift from transporting students by private school buses to municipal transit vehicles. Municipal transit may appear to offer cost advantages when in fact, the high degree of financial subsidization of public transportation by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and municipal governments masks the fact that the actual costs to Ontario taxpayers are higher when transit buses are dedicated to school transportation.

In April 1992, Ernst & Young completed a report for the OSBA entitled "Cost Comparison of Student Transportation Via School Bus Operators and Municipal Transit Systems." The report revealed the following facts:

  • Municipal transit buses cost up to 65 per cent more to operate than school buses, in terms of fuel, maintenance and insurance.
  • After factoring in the Ontario Ministry of Transportation grant -- a hidden provincial subsidy of 33 percent -- municipal buses still cost 32 per cent more to operate than school buses.
  • Ministry of Transportation grants make buying a new municipal buses appear equal to buying new school buses. In fact, the cost of municipal buses is several times higher: $50,000 for a school bus compared to an average of $250,000 for a transit bus.
  • Many municipal transit authorities add extra buses at peak times to accommodate or create dedicated school runs.
  • In municipalities, each dedicated school run requires an additional bus added to the fleet and potentially, the wages and benefits of ad additional driver. In some cases, employees must be paid a minimum number of hours per week regardless of the time actually worked.
  • Rather than reallocating money by diverting students to municipal transit, municipalities and province could realize actual savings by using school buses and eliminating special municipal runs for students.

The OSBA supports fiscal responsibility. It believes that budgetary decisions must be based upon complete, accurate information and it advocates the use of full cost accounting when deciding transportation services for students.

The Association also supports the findings of the Ministry of Transportation's Community Transportation Review which recommends that:

  1. The safety of students should take precedence when deciding upon transportation options (i.e. elementary students using school buses versus public transportation) and local communities should determine age guidelines.
  2. Full-cost accounting should be used when comparing transportation costs, including all capital and operating subsidies from public funds.