School bus driver shortage 'worse' than last year, according to bus companies

School buses in Huron-Perth and Grey-Bruce are are ready to hit the road on Sept. 7. (Scott Miller / CTV London)

The school buses are ready to roll, but John Chapman of Newry Coach Lines, doesn’t have enough drivers to drive them.

“I’m short two drivers. I’m going to drive one and I have a spare driver, so we will get the children to school on Tuesday. But after that, it’s going to be hit and miss for when I can get a spare driver to cover,” says Chapman. “The days I can, the children will get a ride, the days I can’t, moms or dads are going to have to take them.”

As of Friday, there are no “expected” school bus route cancellations for Huron-Perth students on the first day of school, a far cry from the 15 routes cancelled on the first day last year.

“Our driver situation is very tight,” says Huron-Perth’s Student Transportation Services Manager, Janice White. “If any driver who might call in last minute, unexpectedly, there may not be anyone to cover their route. We have made temporary changes to some routes, to try and cover shortages. This will make some school bus routes very long, and it’s only a temporary fix,” she continues.

Chapman says the province’s vaccination mandate isn’t helping. He’s had vaccinated drivers quit, because they don’t want to work with unvaccinated drivers. And he’s had some drivers quit, because they won’t get vaccinated and don’t want to be tested everyday.

“We are losing people over the vaccination policy, no question,” he adds. “It’s also an impediment to hiring because some people choose not to get vaccinated, and that is their right.”

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) payments aren’t helping either, says Chapman. “One person called, had a licence, had experience, good to go, but if it’s not going to pay me what CERB pays me, then I’m not coming. I’ll just stay home and do that,” he says.

Nancy Daigneault, from School Bus Ontario suggests driver wages, ranging between $16 to $20 an hour, are also contributing to the acute shortage.

“We’re now competing with CERB and other industries for drivers. We are very, very short this year. There are going to be delays and cancellations in the GTA, Hamilton, really, all across the province,” she says.

To find out whether routes are cancelled in your families area, you can check out www.ourschoolbuses.ca in Huron-Perth, www.mybigyellowbus.ca in London-Middlesex-Elgin-Oxford, and www.brucegreyschoolbus.ca in Bruce-Grey.