“It seems like people have disappeared, » says Mario Laplante, sales and shipping director for 417 Bus Lines. “COVID has scared a lot of people.”
The company has gone from 40 drivers to 15 since the pandemic began. The pandemic is not just affecting employees. Supply chains are stretched, with parts missing or delayed for bus repairs, preventing companies from putting buses on the road.
For 417 Bus Lines, two to five routes are cancelled per day. Eight bus routes are without a fixed driver and substitutes must run these routes regularly.
Route cancellations have an impact on students’ education. Each cancellation can last up to three days, forcing parents to drive their children to school themselves. Those unable to do so must find other solutions.
Some schools in the region are required to hire volunteer drivers for after-school activities. Parents have to sign a permission form allowing teachers to drive students to those activities, sometimes in their own vehicle.
Bus companies are also facing recruitment problems. Drivers require a specific driver’s licence, a criminal record check and a medical examination to ensure the safety of passengers. This can take up to two months from the time of hiring to the time of starting work.
The causes of this shortage are varied. Wages can be low and drivers are not always recognized for their worth.