Hamilton's school bus driver shortage still not fixed — 1,460 students affected

The school bus driver shortage in Hamilton won't be resolved by the intended date of Oct. 16. Seven existing drivers have resigned since beginning of the school year.

'It's looking unlikely that we will have the problem resolved by Oct. 16,' says school board chair

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board transportation tracker says there are 18 potential open routes, with an average of a 16-minute delay in the mornings, as of Oct. 10. (Bert Savard/CBC)

Hamilton's public school board says its unlikely to meet its Oct. 16 target for solving school bus driver shortages.

According to the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, there are still 18 school bus drivers needed to meet the demands of schools in the public and Catholic boards, with approximately 1,460 students affected. 

In late September, there was a shortage of 21 bus drivers. Little headway has been made since the start of the year on reducing shortages. 

As of Oct. 10, the buses are delayed by an average of 16 minutes. The numbers have not changed from last week.

"For each step forward, we've been met with certain setbacks," said Todd White, chair of the public board. 

He said while 13 new drivers who have completed training, there have been seven resignations since the beginning of the school year of drivers who want to seek full-time employment. Some drivers are also on medical leave.

Shortage is an old problem

This year is not the first time the school boards have faced bus driver shortages.

In 2016, 18 bus routes did not have drivers and roughly 1,000 students were affected by delays. The bus companies experiencing shortages were able to remedy the situation in early October.

"This year the issue escalated and is now lasting further into the school year than last," White said.

Of the 18 bus routes unfilled, all of them are under Attridge Transportation, a company that currently covers over 200 routes.

White said the companies that faced shortages last year "were more successful in their recruitment efforts," and were able to remedy the situation faster.

"It's looking unlikely that we will have the problem resolved by Oct. 16," he said.

No one was available at Attridge Transportation to comment on the current status of recruitment. 

Meeting scheduled to find solution

The transportation consortium, made of representatives of both school boards, will be meeting sometime this week to come up with a plan by end of day Monday.

White said, in the short-term, they're looking to help the bus companies recruit bus drivers — new or already licensed — to meet the demands. One solution he posed was to source drivers from the three other companies the boards work with — Caledonia Transportation, First Student Canada and Sharp Bus Lines.

White mentioned that because being a bus driver is a "precarious type of employment," due to the awkward hours and low wages, in the long-term, the board wants to review recruitment, wages and transportation funding. 

"I think at this point we have to take it to the next level," he said.

In the meantime, the Hamilton Wentworth Student Transportation Services continues to post delays for affected routes on their website.

"Through communication, we hope to mitigate impact as much as possible," White said.


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