The STEO and CTSE are responsible for providing transportation to approximately 40,000 students from the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB) and Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CSDBEO), and the Conseil Scolaire de District de l’Est Ontario (CSDCEO) and Conseil des École Publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO), respectively.
For this coming school year, STEO is predicting 30 routes without routes across their service area. However, STEO Chief Administrative Officer Janet Murray is confident contingencies in place will be able to cover the routes should they not be filled by September.
“We are in the fortuitous situation of having operators with spare drivers who can fill gaps,” said Murray. “Often, a lot of the staff at bus companies are licensed to be drivers. So, they have mechanics, office staff or the owners themselves who can provide coverage.”
A worst-case scenario for parents, Murray said, is a driver may be required to cover more than one route, causing students to be late for school in the morning or waiting longer for a pick-up at the end of the day.
For the CTSE, the shortage has been far less of a concern. According to director of transportation Yan St. Louis, the operators they work with have been able to fill vacant positions.
“At this point we have 99 per cent of our routes covered,” said St. Louis. “We have been fortunate to not experience the same shortages as others.”
Concerns over the availability of bus drivers pre-dates the pandemic, according to Murray. She believes the challenges facing bus drivers and operators were exacerbated by the conditions brought on by COVID, highlighting the demands of the job. In an effort reduce pressure on drivers and help service gaps, STEO is taking on a more active role in supporting bus operators to hire more drivers.
“We are assisting them with recruitment, retention and engagement of drivers,” said Murray. “We are making efforts and working with operators is ways we haven’t in the past. I want to assure parents that we are doing everything we can to offset the impact on families.”
Parents need to be aware it is going to be another year when service coverage will be tight and should have a contingency for getting children to school should bus service be cancelled.
“Having a Plan B in place always makes the family better those morning when service may not be provided,” said Murray. “We know it’s not ideal, but we want to be transparent and honest with the school boards and parents.”
For the 2020-2021 school year, the CTSE was responsible for transporting 9,203 students, according to their annual reports, at a cost of more than $4,000,000 to the CEPEO and $11,000,000 to the CSDCEO. STEO reported over $47,000,000 in actual revenue for their 2019 fiscal year, the most recent year for which their financial reporting is available.