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Province fronts cash for school bus gas

Vital support given inflation, say schools, drivers
2906 BusCash schoolbus-wt-1972
GAS MONEY — The Alberta government announced June 22, 2022, that it will provide some $8.2 million to help school boards pay for rising diesel prices. Bus contractors have struggled to pay for fuel in 2022 due to unusually high prices. FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albert schools and bus companies thanked the province last week for helping them pay for the sky-high price of school-bus fuel.

The Alberta government announced June 22 that it had reinstated the Fuel Price Contingency Program to give school boards some $8.2 million to offset high fuel prices.

Fuel and electricity prices were unusually high in the first half of 2022 due in part to the war in Ukraine, which sent oil prices skyrocketing.

The fuel price contingency program is meant to offset high diesel prices from March to June 2022, where diesel cost around $1.80/L, and is to remain active so long as prices are over $1.25/L (the amount the province used to calculate this year’s education budget). The program was previously used to offset high fuel prices in 2005-2009 and 2011-2013. Fuel makes up about 20 to 25 per cent of a typical school board’s transportation budget.

Big relief

The school fuel rebate is excellent news for bus drivers, who have seen diesel prices jump some 53 per cent from last year, said Laura Doroshenko, general manager of Cunningham Transport (which runs buses throughout St. Albert, Sturgeon County, and Edmonton).

“Our prices have skyrocketed,” Doroshenko said, with the cost of fuel, parts, and oil all way up compared to last year.

Bus companies can’t pass these higher costs onto their clients (the school boards) as those prices were set under contract years in advance, Doroshenko said. Boards also have little spare cash to chip in should bus drivers need support. While her company has survived the hikes, many smaller firms are at risk of going out of business.

“I’m so happy to hear the government is listening to us,” she said of this support.

St. Albert Public spokesperson Paula Power said her board has seen the cost of its chartered buses spike in recent months due to high fuel prices, with its new transportation contracts coming in 14 per cent higher than the previous ones.

Greater St. Albert Catholic has dipped into its reserves to help its drivers cover recent high fuel costs, said transportation supervisor Lauri-Ann Turnbull.

“Nobody anticipated that fuel costs would be sitting at between $1.69 to $1.89 [per litre] for these contractors,” she said, given that diesel cost about $0.86/L at this time last year.

Turnbull said boards will pass the school fuel rebate onto their contractors to help them get through the summer, adding that some contractors she called actually choked up on receiving news of the funding.

“We’re very thankful [the province] has done this at a time when it’s really needed.”

Turnbull and Power said their boards have made several attempts to switch to electric buses in recent years in part to avoid volatile fuel prices, but have yet to get buy-in from the province to cover the capital costs.

Other steps

The school fuel rebate is one of three measures announced June 22 to offset high energy prices.

The province said June 22 that it will extend its cancellation of the $0.13/L provincial fuel tax on gasoline and diesel until September. In effect since April 1, this cancellation is projected to save the driver of a typical large pickup truck $18.50 per tank of gasoline. The province said this tax break will be re-evaluated quarterly, and will continue so long as the average price of crude oil is above $90 a barrel (it averaged $115.88 from mid-May to mid-June).

The province also released details on its previously announced $300-million electricity rebate program. The rebate will automatically apply monthly credits of $50 to the power bills of some 1.9 million homes, farms, and small businesses this July, August, and September, for a total of $150 in rebates.

Visit www.alberta.ca/affordability-programs.aspx for details.


Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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