College bus routes cancelled throughout Ontario as COVID-19 worsens driver scarcity

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

Printed Wednesday, September 9, 2020 11:18PM EDT

The COVID-19 pandemic is putting Ontario’s already precarious faculty bus trade underneath further pressure, dad and mom and advocates argued Wednesday amid mounting stories of masse route cancellations and overcrowded autos.

They stated the rising record of issues, rising simply two days into the province’s return to highschool, come on high of a long-standing bus driver scarcity throughout Ontario and are compounding a state of affairs that was troubling lengthy earlier than the worldwide outbreak.

Debbie Montgomery, president of Unifor Native 4268 which represents bus drivers, stated the total image of driver retention and recruitment remains to be taking form.

However she stated lack of readability round security protocols and entry to private protecting gear has contributed to the state of affairs unfolding throughout the province.

“Now we’re listening to that routes are simply being cancelled. There’s nothing else they will do,” Montgomery stated in a phone interview.

“They can not appeal to new individuals they usually cannot preserve these they’d. The car is perhaps there however the operator is just not.”

Twelve bus routes had been cancelled in each the Gray-Bruce and Thunder Bay areas as of Wednesday.

In Sudbury, Ont., the scholar companies consortium introduced Monday that 23 routes won’t run for at the very least the primary week of college as a result of not sufficient drivers returned to work.

Suppliers cited the pandemic and associated well being issues as causes for holding drivers off the job.

“The college bus trade has been combating a driver scarcity for greater than 5 years and the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has solely exacerbated the issue for this faculty yr,” Pupil Transportation Providers of Thunder Bay stated in an announcement.

The assertion stated the common age of a bus driver within the space is 57, with some of their 70s, and plenty of drivers have determined to stay off the job as a result of age-related well being dangers from COVID-19.

“We respect their proper to make this determination relating to their security,” the assertion learn. “Sadly, we at the moment are confronted with the unlucky state of affairs of getting to droop some bus routes initially of the college yr.”

Montgomery stated round 60 per cent of bus drivers are over the age of 60 and plenty of are feeling strain from their households who argue a job paying between $16 and $20 per hour is just not well worth the well being danger.

“When you may’t really feel assured in your safety, that is big,” she stated. “On daily basis, there’s at the very least one other particular person saying, ‘I am unable to danger this.”’

The cancellations come weeks after the union raised issues over driver well-being and referred to as for higher well being and security steering for the trade.

Montgomery stated the union’s requests, together with requires higher compensation for brand spanking new duties like taking attendance and ensuring children keep of their assigned seats, haven’t been addressed.

A spokesperson for Schooling Minister Stephen Lecce pointed to $100 million in funding the ministry has dedicated for varied facets of transportation to colleges through the pandemic, together with protecting gear for drivers and driver recruitment.

“We’ll by no means hesitate from taking additional motion to guard the well being and security of Ontario’s college students and schooling employees,” spokeswoman Caitlin Clark stated in an assertion.

Brandi Gowan, a mom within the Bruce County space, stated the uncertainty round transportation is making a difficult back-to-school yr much more troublesome.

“Households are already feeling stress … from the pandemic, stress round job safety and stress from sending their youngster again to highschool, and now now we have to fret about busing and whether or not now we have anybody to take care of or drive our kids into faculty,” Gowan stated in an electronic mail.

Busing has posed challenges as courses resume throughout the nation, with issues raised about bodily distancing on packed routes and drivers on strike in Winnipeg this week.

Laws fluctuate throughout provinces and college boards. Some governments akin to Quebec have launched limits on the variety of college students allowed on a bus.

New Brunswick, Saskatchewan and British Columbia are permitting for boundaries between the drivers and passengers. An analogous precaution has not been assured in Ontario, sparking concern amongst drivers, Montgomery stated.

Dad and mom have been inspired to rearrange rides for his or her youngsters to deal with the area scarcity, but it surely is not an choice for all households, particularly these with an extended commute to highschool.

And even for households with operational bus routes, sending children off on a bus and into the classroom has been an emotional transition.

Jennifer McLean, a mom primarily based within the central Ontario neighborhood of Oro-Medonte, Ont., her Grade 10 daughter texted from the bus Wednesday morning reporting that little had modified on her route, the place she was seated centimetres away from one other rider.

With well being points stopping her from driving her youngster to highschool, McLean stated the preliminary stories are scary as their small household bubble grows “exponentially” with the return to class.

“I hugged her goodbye this morning and she or he is aware of that she will be able to’t hug me when she comes dwelling,” she stated. “We do not know the way to cope with this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first printed Sept. 9, 2020.