The School Committee last week approved a three-year contract for student transportation, reflecting an 8.2 percent cost increase for 2024-25 for daily buses serving the four schools.
The sole bidder was Bedford Charter Service of Railroad Avenue, referenced in glowing terms by several at the meeting.
Julie Kirrane, Director of Finance, said structurally the new agreement is the same as the current one, covering not only the daily school bus routes, but also late buses, field trips and athletics, in-district special education, and round trips to and from Boston, paid by the METCO program. She noted that the format has changed from a memorandum of agreement to a contract.
The base transportation increase for subsequent years is 8.2 percent and 8.6 percent. The document also includes two one-year options.
In a memorandum to the School Committee, Kirrane pointed out that “Bedford Charter provided useful context for the price increases currently faced by the school transportation industry,” including vehicles, replacement parts, tires, fuel, wages, and training.
“The labor shortage has been challenging for Bedford Charter, as it has been for the entire industry,” she wrote.
Asked about the specific bus routes, Kirrane explained that they “are governed by the proposal and the bid specifications.”
The new contract calls for “the same number of buses as the current fleet. We have options to go up or down should the environment change or should our needs change.”
In answer to a question from committee member Brad Morrison, Kirrane said “ridership continues to be high,” with the only buses with lower numbers are those serving the northern extremity of the town. “We are not at the point where we are looking to reduce” service. She added that the committee covers the results if the committee changes school start times.
Member Sarah McGinley cited the 18 percent increase for late buses and 14.7 percent for field trips and interscholastic sports.
“I asked for quite a bit of information,” said Kirrane. “Bedford Charter produced information about comparables, and cost environment is definitely a factor. I would call it a market adjustment.”
According to the contract, the increases for late buses in subsequent years are 17.8 and 17.3, and for field trips and sports are 12.8 and 4.5 percent.
“We are always delighted with our partnership with the company and the fabulous service they provide,” said Morrison.
His colleague Sarah Scoville agreed: “They have been a great partner, especially through Covid.” Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang also referred to Bedford Charter as a “partner.”