Boy, 7, with autism forced to wait 90 minutes for school bus due to driver shortage

A seven-year-old Toronto boy with autism had to wait 90 minutes for his morning bus on Tuesday and his parents had to drive him home from school, due to a shortage of bus drivers in the city.

TDSB says about 60 bus routes didn't have drivers on Tuesday, Wednesday

Deckard Peters, a seven-year-old boy with autism, cries after waiting an hour and a half for a bus to take him to school. (Farida Peters)

A seven-year-old Toronto boy with autism had to wait 90 minutes for his morning bus on Tuesday and his parents had to drive him home from school, due to a shortage of bus drivers in the city.

Farida Peters, mother of Deckard, said she went on the first bus, when it finally arrived, to make sure her son made it to class. The bus took him to the wrong school, she said, before going to the right one.

"Children with special needs, especially autism, are not flexible," Peters said. "He could easily have hurt himself or hurt me. I tried negotiating with him for an hour: 'Could we please just go into the car and have Dad drive you? 'No, I'm waiting for my bus.' And he's crying." 

"My heart was breaking because I couldn't comfort him." 

Peters said she posted the video of him crying on Facebook because she thinks the situation is unacceptable. Her husband told her that people need to see the effect on special needs children when these kinds of service disruptions occur.

The Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District Board told parents on their websites to expect "significant delays" until the problem is fixed. The affected bus lines are Attridge Transportation, Wheelchair Accessible Transit and Sharp Bus Lines.

The TDSB's Ryan Bird says that the bus driver shortage has led to frustrated children and parents and long waits for school buses.

Children have waited to be picked up in the morning to go to school, children have waited at bus stops to picked up to go home, and in some cases, no buses have appeared at all. Parents have complained, he said.

"It will take us a few days to get back up and running to where we should be," Bird told CBC News.

"Whether it's the first day of school, or today, and likely into the next few days, possibly into next week, we will be continue to see some of these delays." 
Farida Peters, mother of Deckard, 7, a boy with autism says parents of special needs children should have been told before school started that there would be bus delays. That way, they could have prepared their children for the disruption. (CBC)

Peters says that schools should have contacted parents ahead of time so that other arrangements could be made and she could prepare her son for the change.

"For me, it is a big deal," said Peters.

"He just waited too long. Ninety minutes for a seven-year-old? I just felt really sad for him, and that's why I probably cried for like a couple of hours yesterday. He just seemed so broken and I couldn't help him. It was really hard," she said.

Taxis being used to transport children

Bird said about 60 bus routes did not have drivers on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"It's unfortunate. We don't want them waiting that long at all. Parents and students are frustrated. It shouldn't be happening."

Bird declined to say if the shortage developed because not enough people were hired or because some people quit at the last minute. He said it was not due to an expanding student base.

He said the boards became aware of the issue last week and have been scrambling to find extra drivers. Two weeks ago, the boards thought the bus lines were on track to meet demand. Now, the boards are working with their three other bus lines to minimize the disruption. 
Students were left waiting for school buses on Wednesday due to a "unanticipated school bus driver shortage." (CBC)

In some cases, the bus lines have been using cabs to take children to school or home.

"We are going to be working around the clock right now, trying to work with some of our other bus carriers, to see what can be done to fill the gaps. Obviously, we regret that this has happened," he said.

"The fact is, and that is clear to a number of parents across Toronto right now, that is not enough."

Bird acknowledged that the bus driver shortage has affected children with special needs.​