Can School Buses provide Public Transit?

By Harry Gow | Interurban Rail and Bus

Jul 22
School buses parked in Guelph, Ontario

Transport Action Canada’s recent AGM featured a presentation by the former British Columbia Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Ms. Claire Trevena.  In the discussion that followed the question of using school buses to augment the options available to rural public transit users was raised.  It was clear that this option had not so far been tried in B.C. – and likely most other provinces – for “safety” reasons. However, a number of operators in Québec have taken up the availability of empty seats in local school buses. Four examples of this kind of integrated service are given below, they were chosen given the writer’s professional involvement in three operations.

The first school board in Québec to offer vacant seats to adult passengers was the Des Chênes School Board (CSDC)  in and around Drummondville, Québec, starting about four decades ago. People living along the rural routes were carried into town for work or other purposes along with the pupils. In 2005 when the MRC (county) adopted the governance of this service, given the satisfaction of the population and the total absence of complaints, it continued carrying adults in school buses. A study is now underway to plan a system adding yet more forms of rural transit for the general population and for persons with disabilities, in all seasons.

Farther east, on my home turf, the Des Patriotes School Board has agreed to carry CEGEP (college) students from villages such as Saint-Antoine in the Richelieu Valley to Beloeil to connect with another bus to their college.

The first Québec rural system to combine under one roof transport for the disabled and transit in general was TransporAction Pontiac (TAP), founded in 2004. The TAP website states that “rural public transport is based on using vacant seats and the availability of school and adapted vehicles, public and private, for use by the population.” Sylvie Bertrand, the Director of TAP told me (June 2022) that TAP has an agreement with Emploi Québec to carry its clients in school buses or in transit vehicles. To use the former, clients must have a background check by the Sureté du Québec (Provincial Police) to reassure parents of pupils on the Hautes-Bois school buses. The front rows of seats are reserved for adult bus riders.

The same conditions apply to users of the GUTAC (Gatineau Valley unified access transport) in and around Maniwaki, also using the Haute-Bois school buses, says Linda Lapointe, GUTAC’s Director. A formal agreement covering these conditions and other matters was signed with the school board in 2017, with service starting in 2018, then suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, and projected to restart, as with all the above operations, on return to classes in September 2022.

Using school buses to carry a broad clientèle reduces wasteful empty seat-miles, improves rural peoples’ access to work, jobs, education and more. Managers report reduced misbehaviour by pupils, a by-product of enhanced social integration of all age groups. Finally, the Drumoondville experience of carrying adults in school buses for decades without any complaints should be reassuring to officials looking for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while  increasing the mobility of rural residents.


Interviews with :
Gaston Verrault, Director of Transport, Commision Scolaire des Chênes, 2005.
Linda Lapointe, Director, GUTAC, June 2022
Sylvie Bertrand, Director, TransporAction Pontiac, June 2022

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