Ottawa

Split shifts, low pay, lack of benefits steering school bus drivers away

Poor compensation and difficult working hours are making it hard for school bus drivers to stay in the job, according to one driver who's been doing it for 14 years.

Transportation authority blames driver shortage for route changes, cancellations

The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority has cancelled some routes and modified others due to a shortage of drivers. The changes affected approximately 1,300 students. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Part-time hours, a lack of benefits and low wages are making it hard for school bus drivers to stay in their jobs, according to one driver who's been doing it for 14 years.

Last week, the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) announced a driver shortage was forcing cancellations and changes to some routes.

The changes affected approximately 1,300 students.

OSTA blamed an "unprecedented and unforeseen" shortage of bus drivers.

Olivia Salvatori-Swant of Carleton Place, Ont., a school bus driver since 2005, told CBC Radio's All In A Day she started driving because it allowed her to take her own children along for the ride, saving on childcare costs.

But the part-time hours, lack of benefits and low pay are making it hard for drivers to stay behind the wheel, she said.

Split shifts difficult to manage

"It is a humongous responsibility for the compensation that we receive, and across North America the consensus is give us benefits and give us a fair working wage," she said.

Salvatori-Swant said many drivers are retirees or stay-at-home parents looking to make some extra cash, and that most make between $16.50 and $18.50 an hour to start, depending on the company.

"It doesn't really sustain a sole income for the cost of living today," she said.

Another difficulty is the way shifts are scheduled.

"It is a split shift, so what happens is you have to find employment if you need it between.... but there's really not that many jobs out there that can fill in between the times of what the split shift is," she said.

"We need to make this job not be a fill-in job ... and it would actually attract more [drivers], because plenty of people really do love driving a school bus but financially they're unable to, so they have to leave."

CBC Radio's All In A Day

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