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Want a spot on the school bus? Children must sign-up this year

Plans for the upcoming school year are still unknown, but school bus companies in southwestern Ontario are organizing to be on the road with fewer children onboard.

One school bus typically holds 72 passengers but physical distancing rules mean fewer students on board

A school bus driver in Gatineau, Que., poses with his mask and plastic protective sheet by his seat. Southwestern Ontario drivers are still considering protcols onboard. Ontario's transportation authority would have to approve driver-passenger barriers. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Plans for the upcoming school year are still unknown, but school bus companies in southwestern Ontario are organizing to be on the road with fewer children onboard.

The group that oversees transportation in the region said Thursday students eligible to take the bus must register to get a seat. The process starts July 20. 

Southwestern Ontario Student Transportation Services expects capacity to be reduced by 60 per cent because of physical distancing guidelines set out by the Ministry of Education. 

"There will be fewer seats available," said Maureen Cosyn Heath, chief administrative officer with Southwestern Ontario Student Transportation Association.

"We know many families drive or walk or cycle, so not everyone who is eligible uses the bus. So this is a shift to ensure we're giving those bus seats to students who are transportation dependent." 

Cosyn Heath said one school bus carries 72 passengers and the rules likely mean students would have to sit one per seat. 

She said families across southwestern Ontario will be emailed with a link for registration starting next week. The process will be staggered, with emails being sent to JK to Grade 3 families first, followed by Grade 4 through 8, and then high school students. 

"I wouldn't say we're prioritizing. We're trying to make sure that we can manage how many registrations we receive on our website at any given time," Cosyn Heath explained.

"High school students are the smallest number of our eligible ridership, elementary is the largest group, and certainly in JK to Grade 3, those are the kids who typically needs bus rides in."

On July 29, registration will be live online for those who didn't get the email because they registered for school late and weren't already in the transportation service's database, she added. 

School bus registration 

  • Eligible families will receive registration email during week of July 20
  • Registration goes live for anyone who didn't get the email July 29
  • It ends August 14
  • No internet? A hotline will be setup 

Students who use specialized transportation do not need to register, as their needs are already accounted for. 

A variety of new measures, aside from seating, are also being considered. They including cleaning protocols.

In Quebec, drivers are separated by a protective shield approved by the provincial transportation authority. In most regions in Ontario, wearing a mask on public buses is already a rule.

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