A shortage of school bus drivers in Calgary is sparking worries among families, with many scrambling to find alternate ways to take their children to school due to cancellations.
In an email to Global News, the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) said 34 out of 603 routes do not have a regularly assigned driver. The board said routes are covered by spare drivers, floaters and other drivers with an assigned route.
Meanwhile, the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) said 10 to 12 out of 235 bus routes do not have a bus driver.
Both school boards urge families to have a back-up plan in case buses are cancelled, which could include carpooling, parent pick-up and “other solutions.”
These shortages are anticipated to continue throughout the school year.
“The CBE recognizes the impact this is having on families. We work together with the transportation providers to provide timely communication so families are notified of delays,” the CBE’s email read.
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Paula and Mark Bentley, parents of two kids in two different CBE schools, said this is the worst bus driver shortage they’ve ever seen.
They said the school board stopped posting whether or not a bus is coming on their website. The ones that do come are often full or can’t be tracked because a “random bus” will pick up their kids.
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“I think they just won’t want to admit that this is a big problem, so I’ll take my daughter and her friends and whoever else is around,” Paula said.
“We’re supposed to know (if they need a ride home) by 1:30 p.m… But that’s not always the case.”
Mark said the lack of stability and reliability in the school bus service is frustrating. Sometimes there wouldn’t be buses for a whole week.
“There’s no stability because we have to wing it from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and see if we need to go get her… It’s basically flying by the seat of our pants every single school day just to see what will happen,” he said.
Both the CBE and the CCSD said they are actively trying to hire more bus drivers to staff the bus routes. However, not a lot of people are applying to these jobs and those who do will have to train for five to six weeks before being able to get on the road.
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“These positions are essentially part-time. The typical driver would be on a route in the morning and another route in the afternoon… It’s difficult to find someone who can do a split shift like that,” said Arjan Slagmolen, southern Alberta regional director for Southland Transportation.
“There’s a certain demographic that works for it and there’s a certain demographic that it doesn’t work for. That’s always been the challenge in the bus industry.”
Slagmolen also said while bus drivers are getting sick, it’s not main reason driving the labour shortage.
“Right now it’s on average for what you would expect for seasonal illnesses, but it does not significantly impact our operations any more than usual,” he said.
Paula said she is refusing to pay fees for the school bus if shortages continue.
“I’m not going to pay for the bus payment. There’s no way. Not when there’s no bus and no driver to pay it to,” she said.
“When I asked about it, (the CBE) said we have a 20 per cent discount this year because of reliability issues, but I have not seen a bus all week. I’m not paying.”
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