What it's like to be one of the few school bus drivers in this N.S. community
4 new drivers from Millbrook started training this week
A shortage of school bus drivers in Millbrook, N.S., means Chris Stevens is almost always busy.
He started driving in 1999, making him the community's longest-serving school bus driver.
A lack of spare, or casual, bus drivers is creating challenges in several communities in the province, including in the Chignecto-Central School District where teachers are driving students to school in some cases.
Stevens said he's one of two regular bus drivers in Millbrook, and there's also a driver who covers the pre-school and day care.
"Unfortunately, there are no spare [drivers] so if someone gets sick and needs a day off or whatever, then you know, we double up when we need to," Stevens told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Thursday.
Sometimes that means Stevens is working overtime doing multiple routes in one day.
Millbrook is currently training four new drivers to try to address the problem. They started a course at the Commercial Safety College in Debert on Monday.
Stevens spoke with Mainstreet host Jeff Douglas spoke about what it's like to be one of the few drivers in the community.
Their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
You can listen to their full interview here:
Have there always been so few bus drivers?
For the most part, since I've been driving, yeah. I find it's one of those jobs where you need a certain temperament to do it. I'm convinced I could teach anyone to drive, but it's the kids and the parents and stuff like that that you've got to find your own way to handle things. The driving part is the easy part.
Is it hectic some days, Chris?
Some days can be. It literally seems like [it depends on] the day of the week. Monday everybody's half asleep. Friday they're all jacked up. You get kind of a mixed bag. But for the most part, I live in the community I drive for so I know all the kids, I know the parents. I've driven long enough now a lot of them, I've driven their parents when they were younger so I got a pretty good rapport that way.
How many runs do you have to do a day?
On a normal day, I got my elementary first and then I come back and I do my junior high and high school and then basically just repeat it in the afternoon. [That's on] a normal day, and then occasionally you have field trips in-between and then of course they have to double up — pretty much six [runs] instead of three.
How many kids are there in the community who need a ride?
We utilize Markie Bus Tours for the Christian academy, which doesn't have traditional school buses. But altogether we have probably between 150 and 160 kids that are registered to ride the bus. Now having said that, not everyone rides the bus, but that's roughly where we're at.
What happens if you don't feel well, if you get sick?
I can only speak for myself, but I push through the best I can. Unless I'm physically throwing up, I take my Tylenol ... put my mask on and away I go. Especially, the whole COVID thing was an issue when you had to isolate. When those things happen, there's no choice. You have to follow the rules and in those instances where a fella steps up and doubles up, it is what it is.
Like I said, we're lucky the community we live in … I got a pretty good rapport with most of the parents so if I put it out there that this is the situation we're in, can you help us all out? A lot of parents will either drive their kids themselves, they may even offer to carpool with their neighbours. So we kind of pull together and make it work that way. We're able to do that in a small community.
A lot of parents will either drive their kids themselves, they may even offer to carpool with their neighbours.- Chris Stevens, bus driver
How long is it going to be until these other drivers come on line?
My understanding is if the course started on Monday — if it's still the same as when I took it 23 years ago — it's a three-week course and then of course they have to pass their test at the school itself and then do the test again with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
So hopefully within four weeks or so we'll have a bit clearer picture…. Hopefully they all have success and we can move forward from there.
You love the job, clearly.
Yeah, the kids are rewarding. I mean, you have your days, but … I have four of my own kids and they've all ridden my bus. My youngest is in Grade 11 now, but all the kids in the community, when they're on my bus, they're my kids. I'll look out for them like I would my own.
With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet Halifax