NORTH BAY — School bus operators across Ontario now have access to an improved safety lighting system and, with a $4-million commitment from the provincial government, the means to equip their fleets with the technology.
The Government of Ontario calls the funding to retrofit the vehicles with the eight-lamp amber-red warning system "a major step forward to make school buses safer for children." The upgrade is supported by law enforcement, industry, and safety advocates across the province. Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America to still use an all-red light system on school buses.
The school bus operator activates the amber signals when approaching a stop to give drivers clear advanced notice the bus is slowing down to let a student on or off. Transport Canada recommended all provinces use the amber-red system after findings showed the amber warning lights were 11 per cent more effective than systems with all-red overhead lights in reducing the speed of approaching vehicles.
Two people with local ties have played important roles in bringing this initiative to fruition: Mattawa's Pierre Ranger, the chairman of the Let's Remember Adam campaign who has long advocated for the change to the safer amber-red overhead warning lamps system on Ontario school buses and former North Bay resident and current Kitchener–Conestoga MPP Mike Harris, son of former Premier and MPP for Nipissing Mike Harris.
The Let's Remember Adam group calls the news "amazing." It is "another step in the right direction to make school buses safer. So many people worked so hard to make this change. We are so pleased to see it coming to light."
Harris' Private Member’s Bill, Bill 246 the Safer School Buses Act, 2021, received Royal Assent on May 12, 2021, amending Section 175 of the Highway Traffic Act to require school buses manufactured after 2005 to be equipped with the amber-red dual lamp warning system by this September.
"I am very happy that Ontario has actioned my Private Members’ Bill and is providing operators with funding for this important safety feature that will help prevent tragic accidents that too often involve our school-aged children," says Harris. "The health and safety of our future generations should be everyone's top priority, and I can't wait to see the retrofitted buses on the roads next school year."
Operators will have access to more than $4 million in one-time grants to help offset costs for retrofitting Ontario school buses with the eight-lamp amber-red warning system. Operators must complete the retrofits in time for the 2022-23 school year. Additional details concerning eligibility criteria and the application process for this grant program expected in May 2022 will be communicated to the sector when finalized.
Stock Transportation, a local operator, is eager to equip its buses with the eight-lamp amber-red warning light system, saying the light system will make roads safer by communicating to traffic when buses are slowing down and when they have stopped to pick up students. Stock says it has already received delivery of the required light components and all of its buses "will have this light system operating in time for the 2022-2023 school year."
With the announcement, the financial barriers for stakeholders are removed. Some companies have their own mechanics to do the work while others will have to contract the job out but the funding should create an environment in which all operators have the safety light system installed in time for the next school year.
Adopting the amber-red warning system would see the two inner red overhead signals on both the front and back of a school bus in Ontario replaced with amber-coloured signals. It uses two stages of flashing coloured lamps to signal the slowing (amber coloured lamps) and stopping (red coloured lamps) activities of school buses to surrounding motorists. The Ministry of Transportation requires all school buses purchased in Ontario after January 1, 2005, to be manufactured with eight overhead signal lights.
An estimated 20,000 vehicles will require retrofitting to operate this system. For most bus models, this change would only require a replacement of the lens cap. Grant amounts are expected to range from $110 to $1,630 per vehicle to reflect the complexity of retrofits required. The grant application process will be determined in partnership with School Bus Ontario, a non-profit association that provides advocacy, education and legislative consultation services to the owners of school bus fleets.