Chronic shortage of school bus drivers wreaking havoc with routes in Sudbury

Thirteen more school bus routes were cancelled in the Sudbury area Monday morning, with more expected by Tuesday.

It’s another headache for parents, students and officials in Sudbury.

“It’s actually worse than I was expecting,” said Renee Boucher, with the Sudbury Student Services Consortium.

Boucher said obstacles, cancelations and juggling was expected before classes returned in September, but the last two months proved to be even more challenging than she imagined.

“We had enough drivers to cover every route in September and the replacement drivers, that’s what was lacking. We didn’t have many replacement drivers. At this point, we don’t even have enough drivers to cover all routes,” she said.

“The consortium has removed three routes altogether, tried to remove stops from one run and amalgamated it on other runs, so we were able to do that but even with three (fewer) routes, we’re still not covering every one of our routes.”

The Sudbury Student Services Consortium is responsible for bus services for the four school boards in Sudbury. On Monday, four routes were cancelled due to COVID-19 exposure and another nine were cancelled due to driver shortages.

“Just this morning … one particular company called and said we need to cancel another seven school buses,” said Boucher. “We’re losing drivers each and every day as we’re going ahead, unfortunately.”

Automated phone calls are expected to go out Monday afternoon alerting parents of even more cancelations this week. Officials said that although COVID-19 is a factor, it definitely isn’t the biggest problem the consortium is facing.

“The most common reason is because of full-time employment elsewhere,” said Boucher. “So right now everyone in Sudbury, everyone is looking for employees. So if you just look around, everyone is asking for full-time employees so our drivers are seeing that as well and deciding that full-time employment is better for them.”

Boucher said they had six people in training last week, but this week are down to three.

"So some of them decided to do something else. Some of them decided to go for full-time employment.”

Boucher said in a perfect world, 25 new drivers are needed to get through this school year in Sudbury alone. But she said there are a lot of incentives for people who might be interested in getting behind the wheel.

“I know that the Ministry of Education also, it’s been a couple of years now, they are providing a driver retention program,” she said. “So every semester, if a driver stays for a full semester, the driver can receive $1,000 at the end of that semester so there’s a potential of $2,000 over and above what a driver would regularly do.”

Leuschen Transportation employees can also receive a pay bonus if they refer a new driver who stays with the company for at least four months.

Boucher said that steps are also being taken to improve technology and make the job easier for drivers.

“This year the consortium, we’ve provided tablets for all of our school buses," she said. "So our drivers have a tablet on a round mount and they can see the stops, they can see the students and that’s to help them out so that they don’t have the route sheets on paper in front of them."

Boucher said the consortium is also looking into a student counter to track how many students are taking the bus on a regular basis. She said this will help the consortium adjust routes in the future so that kids who take it regularly can be put on a non-cancelled route.

Impacted routes are regularly listed on the Sudbury Student Services Consortium Facebook page.