Schools may be open but getting kids there is suddenly an issue after a serious shortage of bus drivers has led to the cancellations of numerous routes on certain days.
The cancellation will affect 11 schools in Brantford, one in Brant County and 15 in Haldimand County.
Busing is handled by three companies under the banner of Student Transportation Services Brant Haldimand Norfolk (STSBHN). They are short at least 30 drivers, as many have quit or said they are pressing “pause” on their job for the school year, said transportation manager Phil Kuckyt.
“Bus driving is a part-time job for the vast majority of our workers and many people are retired or partially retired. It’s been an exceptional year for those taking a pause.”
Kuckyt said drivers have cited concerns about catching COVID-19 or the need to support their own families by providing childcare at home.
“We have folks currently going through training and we’re reaching out to our retired drivers to see if they’d be willing to return but we still have a number of drivers opting to leave,” he said.
“It’s a challenging position and we are very appreciative of those who drive.”
Kuckyt said that, due to ministry guidelines, all buses are to run normal routes at full capacity, a move that means some buses group cohorts of students heading to and from different schools.
There have been no confirmed cases of the virus among local drivers, who are provided with surgical grade face masks and face shields and a disinfectant spray that’s to be used twice daily on the buses.
The vehicles are equipped with hand sanitizer and students from Grade 4 to 12 are required to wear face coverings.
“We also strongly recommend face coverings for kindergarten to Grade 3 because physical distancing isn’t possible on the bus,” Kuckyt said.
Secondary schools affected either partially or entirely by the cancellations include: Brantford Collegiate Institute, Assumption College, Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Tollgate Technological Skills Centre in Brantford, and Cayuga Secondary, Dunnville Secondary and McKinnon Park Secondary in Haldimand.
Elementary and French language schools hit by the cancellations are Branntford’s Agnes Hodge, Ryerson Heights, St. Basil Catholic, Ste. Marguerite, St. Peter, St. Patrick, St. Theresa, Madonna Della Libera and Ecole Dufferin and Onondaga-Brant on Brant School Road in Brantford.
Haldimand elementary and French language schools affected are Caledonia Centennial, Oneida Central, River Heights and Notre Dame in Caledonia; JL Mitchener and St. Stephen’s in Cayuga; Mapleview and Thompson Creek in Dunnville; Rainham Central in Fisherville; Seneca Central in York; and St. Michael in Walsh.
The cancellations are limited to South Brantford and Haldimand at this point because the driver shortage is mainly at First Student, which was recently awarded the contract for schools in those areas.
The transportation service has opted to limit the impact of the cancellations as much as possible by pairing route cancellations on back-to-back days so parents and students can plan ahead.
To see a full list of the rolling cancellations and which routes are affected on which days, go to www.bit.ly/3k9SBvz.
In a news release, Kuckyt said the transportation service deeply regrets the impact this will have on students and his organization hopes to be fully staffed after Thanksgiving.
But that’s being optimistic, he said on Sept. 11.
“I wouldn’t say we’re confident at being back to full strength. That’s the initial window for rolling cancellations so families can make alternative arrangements,” said Kuckyt.
“But we’re actively working with the bus services to rectify the concerns. We’re acutely aware of the impact this has on families and we are trying our very best.”
The shortage of bus drivers has been province-wide issue for more than five years, according to other student transportation services.
Kuckyt said the local service, which relies on Sharp, First Student and Voyago busing lines, has been able to avoid the impact until now.
He said the bus lines are actively seeking new drivers. Information about becoming a driver can be found on the transportation website at www.stsbhn.ca.