Ottawa area school bus operators scrambling to hire drivers

Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa 

If you're a good driver and great with kids, there may be a job waiting for you.

School boards are facing a critical shortage of school bus drivers and with the winter coming, it's going to get worse. There's a recruitment drive under way in many parts of this province right now.  In fact, Ottawa has 52 permanent jobs available for school bus drivers; a situation that's only going to get worse as the Snowbirds driving many of those buses head south for the winter.

Andrew Bradley is the General Manager of M.L. Bradley Ltd. in Navan; a school bus company that his family has owned it for 53 years.

 He also drives a bus now and he's not the only manager taking to the road.

“Myself, my operations manager, the admin assistant,” says Bradley, “Everyone in our office drives except a few dispatchers. It's been forcing all of us to go on the road.”

The issue is a critical shortage of school bus drivers.  Bradley says they're short at least 10 drivers.

He blames the shortage on a policy a few years ago that allowed multinational companies to come into the school bus market undercutting companies like his.

“It's creating a very volatile market, it’s disturbing,” says Bradley, “and we've been fighting it for the last ten years.”

This is a problem right across Canada and into the United States.  In fact, it's been so bad at some points that thousands of students have been left scrambling to get to class on time.  Here in Ottawa, there is a need right now for 52 permanent drivers.

That shortage here has meant some kids getting to school or home late.  The problem gets worse every winter as many of the school bus drivers, older retirees, head south.  But there's a bigger concern.

“There is a shortage of drivers in almost every transportation industry right now,” says Vicky Kyriaco, the General Manager of the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority, “and so we are trying to figure out how to make this job more competitive and more appealing than some of the other driving jobs out there.”

And so, the push is on for young moms like Olivia Salvatori-Swant, who brings her baby on board as she drives.

“It's fiscally impossible for me to work and put him in daycare at the same time,” says Salvatori-Swant, “so I’m allowed to bring him on the bus with me which saves about $1000 a month in daycare.”

She says it's a great job and besides, “I enjoy it.  I love all the little kids on the bus.”

The shortage got so bad in Toronto that the provincial ombudsman stepped in last year to deal with complaints.  But this is a nation-wide problem that doesn't come with an easy fix.