It was a mad scramble at The Sudbury Student Services Consortium Tuesday morning as some school bus drivers failed to report to work. Two more bus routes were cancelled, leaving some in a lurch. (Ian Campbell/CTV News)

The decision whether to return to school this fall has been a difficult one for all involved, including school bus drivers.

On Tuesday morning, the Sudbury school bus consortium cancelled two more routes as some drivers failed to report to work.

Twenty-three routes were cancelled Monday due to a driver shortage.

"There were a few drivers who just decided overnight not to go back," said Sudbury Student Services Consortium's executive director Renee Boucher. "Unfortunately, there were a lot of social media discussions yesterday and some drivers were receiving calls from parents that they had transported in the past and those parents were saying, 'How can you drive a bus?' 'It's going to be awful and dangerous,' and so some of these drivers were peer-pressured into quitting."

Boucher said it's unfortunate, given most of her drivers told her after their runs were done on Tuesday that it wasn't that bad.

She said many misconceptions have been circulating over the buses running at capacity. Boucher said most are running at under capacity and most children are not sitting three to a seat, as some have suggested.

'Nothing changes'

"Nothing changes. We didn't sit three to a seat last year and we're definitely not going to do it this year," said Boucher. "What we're seeing is a reduction of children on our buses, so where possible, we distance the children on buses and parents don't need to worry about overloaded to capacity. Most runs are not."

Short of those few challenges, most drivers are telling her the first day of school was a big success. She said it's important to note they'll still be tweaking some of the problems they've found in the coming days.

"I've spoken to operators who said it went well, even with the masks and the shields, you know everyone sanitizing hands while they're on buses. They said it was better than what they had expected," said Boucher.

One of the issues was a new application they just started using five days ago that allows parents to see the assigned seats. Boucher said there was some confusion because it looked like buses were fuller than they actually were. In some cases, buses serve more than one school and the app wasn't making that very clear.

The app also sat children by bus stop location and sometimes by grade, which would break up some siblings, so they're currently working to address the issue.

She said thousands of requests came in after the deadline and they're now in the process of trying to log each individual one and make sure all concerns are addressed.

Some confusion

There has also been some confusion with parents both opting in for school transportation and virtual learning, which has slowed the process down.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 175 and 633 don't represent school bus drivers in Greater Sudbury, but recently raised concerns of the drivers they represent in both Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins.

Spokesperson Tim Deelstra said the Ford government's framework doesn't provide for safety and he has concerns for both their members and the children.

"It's not a surprise to hear there are shortages," said Deelstra. "We knew this was coming and the government could have done a better job. It doesn't jive with the best advice we're getting right now from public health."

In the meantime, with 25 school buses now parked, Boucher and the consortium are now working to get those drivers they have in training certified and out on routes.