More school bus drivers getting behind the wheel thanks to free training

Some free training courses hope to help with a shortage of school bus drivers.

'The demand for bus drivers is high'

This is the Charlottetown group of students with instructor, Russell Banks, second from left. The course runs three weeks, and is paid for by federal funding to the province which helps address labour shortages. (Laura Meader/CBC)

School officials hope a free school bus driver training program will help get more people behind the wheel. 

There has been an ongoing shortage of school bus drivers for a few years now. 

"It seems to be an increasing need, this year," said Dave Gillis, leader of corporate services for the Public Schools Branch.

Gillis said the PSB lost about a third of their substitute drivers this year, mostly due to people retiring. There are now about 53 drivers on the substitute list. 

Student Gerry Gardner hopes he may have the opportunity to drive his own kids on their bus. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"We've had situations where we weren't able to find a substitute when needed," he said. 

The province has sponsored about 50 students to take school bus driver training over the last few years — about half of those students were trained just in the last year. 

The cost of the course is normally around $3,000 per student. 

A spokesperson with the province says a labour market development agreement with the federal government provides the money with the aim of addressing labour shortages. 

'Fantastic option'

"I think it's fantastic, it opens up opportunities," said student Gerry Gardner. 

Gardner said he previously did heavy construction work and is looking for something that's easier physically and that will let him spend more time with his family. 

"This is a fantastic option to be able to stay home," he said. 

Fellow student Lekan Faromika moved to P.E.I. from Nigeria about 10 years ago.

'I think I would really like to have this job,' says bus driving student, Lekan Faromika. (Laura Meader/CBC )

He used to work as a geologist in the mining and gas industry but said there aren't a lot of opportunities in that field in P.E.I.

"I'm in this course, because I love to drive," he said.

"I also love children," 

'Good drivers versus just drivers'

"The goal of this course is to get the Island some more drivers for the school buses," said Russell Banks, instructor with JVI Transportation & Safety Academy. 

Banks said they spend a lot of time on safety, driving and working with children. 

"The end goal is to come out with good drivers versus just drivers," he said. 

Bus driver instructor Russell Banks goes over basic mechanics of the bus. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Hope for more drivers

The Public Schools Branch says the free training programs have been a great support. 

Gillis said he's heard stories in the past from people unable to take the training because of cost. 

"My hope is we have more and more candidates apply," he said. 

"The demand for bus drivers is high." 

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