The supply chain problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the Chinook School Division’s process to obtain new school buses.
It took much longer than usual to obtain 10 new 29-passenger school buses that were put into use since the start of the new school year.
The purchase of the vehicles from Legacy Bus Sales Ltd. were formally approved during a special Chinook School Division board meeting, Oct. 25.
Trustees voted in favour of a motion to purchase the 10 new 29-passenger buses at a cost of $834,790.80.
Vehicle manufacturers have been among the many industries affected by supply chain issues due to the pandemic, including shortages of microchips used in vehicles.
Sharie Sloman, the Chinook School Division’s chief financial officer, spoke to media after the meeting about the division’s difficulties to source buses.
“There’s just a shortage coming out of the factory due to chips, replacements, the actual pieces that put them together,” she said. “There’s just a real tough shortage. Most of our buses come out of the U.S., and we’re such a small market here in Canada. So just to get the buses out of the U.S. and into here has been a bit of a challenge, for sure.”
It appears as if these supply chain problems will continue to persist for some time and the school division will have to keep it in mind when future orders for buses are made.
“We’ve just been talking to some of our suppliers and bus suppliers, and they’re telling us that that’s still going to be another year,” she said. “They’re still looking at the same type of issue that we’re in now, where it’s probably going to be a year. We’re going to be a year out where we’ll have to order and wait just about a year in order for the buses to arrive.”
Legacy Bus Sales Ltd. provided fleet management advice to the Chinook School Division for the past five years. The contract came to an end in August. The purchase of the 10 new buses were still done under the terms of this five-year contract and on advice of the company to place the orders early.
“We actually ordered those in October 2020 so that they would be here for September 2021 when we started school this year,” she said. “They basically gave us the heads-up that we needed to get those ordered that time if we wanted buses in place by September 2021.”
The school division will usually try to replace between eight and 10 buses a year to keep the bus fleet up to date, but it depends on the funding available within budget limitations.
“We did not budget for that last year,” she said. “We weren’t sure what the bus situation was going to be and at the time of budget we didn’t have anything in budget for that. So that’s why we needed to make the motion today, because it was not included in budget.”
The school division had to go ahead and order the buses last year due to the supply chain issues, and the funding for the purchase of these new vehicles will therefore be coming from reserve funds.
“We are fortunate that we do still have some reserves sitting there,” she said. “We were able to make that purchase out of reserves, plus we did have some COVID savings, which also went into our reserves. So we had some there that we could use.”
The 10 new buses will be used on rural bus routes. Bus replacements are done based on mileage of a vehicle and whether there are any mechanical issues with a unit.
“Out in our rural communities we do put on lots of kilometres a year,” she said. “So it doesn’t take us long. We’re probably in about a 10-year cycle. Some routes will be less, because of the kilometres they put on and then of course in the city, because it’s easier kilometres on the bus and it’s all paved roads, those buses will probably last us longer than say the buses out in the rural communities where they’re doing gravel roads and heavy-duty stuff. So we also factor that in as well.”
The school division has been implementing a rightsizing process for the bus fleet and it was part of the fleet management solution offered by Legacy Bus Sales Ltd. during the five-year contract.
“They did give us an idea of what that would look like and we have taken a lot of those practices and then put them into our practices as well,” she said. “So we’re still doing the rightsizing and replacing with that size on our routes.”
The key focus of the rightsizing process is to ensure the size of buses used on routes are appropriate to ridership to ensure cost effectiveness of the bus fleet. Sloman noted it is especially a key consideration on rural bus routes.
“If we have less ridership, we would like a smaller bus,” she said. “The issue always is in the rural we have gravel roads and we need buses that are going to stand up to that type of environment. So we always need to find out the practical piece, the bus that’s going to be able to maintain and yet have the right size. We’ve been working to get those types of buses that we can do that – the right ridership on the right bus and hope that they’re durable to keep up with the environment that they’re in.”