Toronto

How Toronto school boards plan to fix potential school bus driver shortage

Toronto school boards are reassuring parents the school bus woes that left thousands of students scrambling to get to class last fall won't be repeated after warning that 21 of their school-bus routes are without permanent drivers.

2 school bus carriers to bring in additional drivers to cover the 21 affected routes, school boards say

Toronto school boards say they have 'contingency plans' to deal with a school bus driver shortage on 21 routes this September. (CBC)

Toronto school boards are reassuring parents the school bus woes that left thousands of students scrambling to get to class last fall won't be repeated after warning that 21 of their school-bus routes are without permanent drivers.

Toronto Student Transportation Group — a joint initiative between the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board — told CBC Toronto Tuesday morning they have arranged "contingency plans" to prevent students from being left on the curb. 

'Bringing in additional drivers'

The boards reavealed on Monday that two of their school bus carriers, Sharp Bus Lines and Stock Transportation, had notified them of driver shortages.

Kevin Hodgkinson, general manager of the Toronto Student Transportation Group, said in an appearance on Metro Morning the companies have committed to bring in extra drivers to staff the affected routes. 

"They're going to be bringing in additional drivers from out of town to temporarily cover those routes so that there's a dedicated driver on every route and then it still maintains their spare pool of drivers so they're able to have the flexibility to cover off any daily contingencies going forward," he said. 

Sharp Bus Lines will bring on six additional drivers, while Stock Transportation has arranged for 15 new drivers. 

"These drivers, they're already trained, from their own divisions," explained Hodgkinson. "The companies will be putting them up in facilities and looking after their own drivers, same as they would any other driver." 

School boards follow ombudsman's recommendations

This announcement comes after Ontario's ombudsman Paul Dubé released a harsh critique about the "large-scale busing crisis" last year. 

His investigation put forward 42 recommendations which TDSB and Toronto's Catholic board agreed to earlier this month. 

The recommendations included developing a communication protocol to inform parents of delays and cancellations, requiring operators to give drivers ongoing training and ensuring all bus routes have sufficient drivers by Aug. 11.

As a result, the contingency plan includes moving some of the affected routes to carriers with a sufficient number of drivers.

'[Drivers] will know their route and they will know their students they're transporting the first day of school.'  - Kevin Hodgkinson

The school boards have reassigned 10 routes from Stock Transportation to other bus operators. 

They will also implement training for their additional drivers to familiarize them with the routes. 

"[Drivers] will just be getting refresher courses to make sure that they are on the road this week to make sure that they know the route so they don't go on that first day not knowing where they're going," said Hodgkinson.

"They will know their route and they will know their students they're transporting the first day of school."

60 bus routes affected last fall

Last fall's bus driver shortage affected about 60 routes across the city and made more than 2,600 children wait hours for buses that were late or never showed up. The problem continued for months.

Hodgkinson noted this year's adjustment affects only one per cent of school bus routes. 

Halton Student Transportation Services says it is also expecting a shortage of school bus drivers in September that could lead to delays in Oakville and Burlington. 

CBC Toronto contacted Student Transportation of Peel Region, responsible for busing Peel board students. Carla Pereira, a spokesperson for Peel District School Board, said they don't anticipate a bus driver shortage. 

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board said last week it has spoken to all four of their busing contractors and none are facing a shortage of drivers.

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