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Low pay leading to school-bus driver shortage could impact county, says group

Consortium overseeing student transportation in the region says all routes will have drivers by Tuesday, Sept. 7
20210319 School Bus stop sign RV
GuelphToday file photo

The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round, but high turnover in the driver seat may put bumps in the road for student transportation.

Provincewide school-bus driver shortages could impact Simcoe County, according to the executive director of School Bus Ontario.

However, the chief executive officer overseeing transportation at Simcoe County school boards says all routes will be fully staffed as of Tuesday, Sept. 7 when kids head back to class.

Nancy Daigneault, executive director of School Bus Ontario, says school bus driver retention has been a concern for more than 10 years and COVID-19 has compounded the issue.

School Bus Ontario is a non-profit advocacy organization representing various groups within the school-bus industry.

“The GTA (Greater Toronto Area), Simcoe County, northern Ontario, Peterborough, Hamilton... it’s right across the province,” she said. “It’s the bidding system, coupled with the pandemic. 

"The wages just aren’t attractive enough.”

Daigneault says school-bus drivers are typically paid between $16 and $20 an hour in Ontario, depending on their location.

“The government awards contracts to the lowest possible bidder which suppresses driver pay. On top of that, we’re competing with CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit). It’s just a perfect storm,” she said.

Daigneault says the issue could result in delays or cancellations of routes.

“If you don’t have enough drivers, it gets problematic really quickly,” she said. “The government has to stop that bidding system which places value on the lowest possible bid. It’s not sustainable.”

According to John Barbato, chief executive officer of the Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium (SCSTC), there will be a driver for each route this year.

“We’ve been in constant contact with our operators over the summer and the most recent information we have is that we do have a driver for each route in Simcoe County, so we’re really happy about that,” he said.

Barbato says local school-bus operators are constantly hiring, and if there is a shortage on Sept. 7, there are spare drivers to call upon.

“We continue to monitor that with our operators,” he said. “If we’re short – and that could happen for any reason; sometimes drivers are off ill or can’t come to work – we have opportunities to cover those routes with spare drivers and we work with operators to make sure those routes get covered.”

The SCSTC provides student transportation services within Simcoe County for the Simcoe County District School Board and the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board. SCSTC-contracted school buses are scheduled to transport more than 36,000 eligible students to and from school every day in 2021.

Last week, both Simcoe County public and Catholic school boards confirmed that transportation COVID-19 protocols through the consortium will continue this year as they were last year.

These protocols include:

  • All transported students must self-screen every day before going to the bus stop in the morning.
  • Students and parents are encouraged to respect physical distancing of at least two metres between students at assigned bus stop locations.
  • The use of non-medical masks for all students (from kindergarten through Grade 12) is required on school vehicles.
  • Drivers will be wearing medical masks. Eye protection will be worn as students board and exit the school vehicle.
  • Students will be assigned seats and are required to sit only in their assigned seating.
  • Students are encouraged to follow proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
  • School vehicles will follow an enhanced cleaning protocol of disinfecting high-touch surfaces (for example handrails, seat backs) twice daily.

New this year, families and students can now receive delay notification to their devices by downloading the BusPlanner Delays App from the Apple or Android app stores.

Users should select Simcoe County STC as the transportation authority and use their student’s school and route number to sign up to receive delay notifications for their specific bus(es).

“The new app is in keeping with the times and helping people to get information quickly,” said Barbato. “(Users) will get a push notification if the bus is delayed by 15 minutes or more.”

Bus delay notifications are also communicated through the SCSTC website, which can be found by clicking here.

Click on the links to read our stories on the public and Catholic school board’s overall back-to-school plans.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 15 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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