School bus operators claim minimum wage increase could cripple student transportation

A group that represents school bus operators in Ontario says a "significant, unexpected increase" to the minimum wage has pushed the school transportation system in this province "to the brink of failure."

The Ontario School Bus Association warns of service disruptions starting in January 2018, if operators don't get more funding.

The Association says school bus operators are bound by long-term contracts that never contemplated a 20% wage increase to the minimum wage.

OSBA President Mark Begg says his members cannot afford the extra labour costs.  

The minimum wage will be increased twice between the start of the upcoming school year and January 1st.  

It means the mandatory minimum hourly rate for each driver will be $14.

Begg says drivers currently make between $12 and $16 an hour.

The OSBA, which represents 3 out of every 4 school buses on the road in Ontario (and whose owners employ some 18,000 school bus drivers) fears that students could be left waiting at the side of the road instead of heading back to class after the Christmas break. 

Begg claims the cost of operating many bus routes will outstrip the money school bus operators get from the provincial government.  

The OSBA stresses it isn't opposed to a higher minimum wage, but says the increase is being phased in too quickly -- to the point that some operators might have to shut down if no action is taken.  

Begg says he's raised these concerns with the Ontario government but officials with the Education Ministry have been slow to respond.  

He adds Education Minister Mitzie Hunter has all the authority she needs to re-open school bus contracts.  

Begg estimates operators will need an extra $50 million dollars in combined funding, to cover the wage increases up to January 1st.  

He says more funding will be required by 2019 to account for the next minimum wage raise, to $15 per hour.  

120 operators will be affected across the province.