Toronto busing group admits service and communication gaps in Grade 2 students not getting picked up

school bus

The Toronto Student Transportation Group admits there have been clear problems in the case of three Grade 2 students who are still waiting on consistent service. 

One mother says the situation has left her and fellow parents scrambling to get their kids to school, driving them themselves, using the TTC and walking their three seven-year-olds to school. 

But the bigger issue she says has been a lack of communication. 

"You cannot leave parents hanging," Sharon Bir said. 

Bir (an employee of NEWSTALK1010's parent company, Bell) says after registering her daughter for North Preparatory Junior Public School in August, she had not received a call from the busing company contracted for pickup. 

On the evening of the first day of school, she says the company - Wheelchair Accessible Transit - called to say their driver had cancelled and instead offered to transport her child with taxis. 

The TSTG - which oversees public busing - currently has a contract with Beck's to use taxis whenever it's needed, however one of the rules is kids in J.K. to Grade 3 are too young. 

Bir didn't know about the taxi contract, but declined anyway because she didn't feel comfortable, which is another provision: if a parent doesn't give permission, other accommodations must be found. 

She said there were still multiple offers for taxis and on Friday morning, a bus did show up, but at 9:30. 

"I'd get a call saying there's a bus outside of your building, but it's 9:30 on a Friday morning and kids are already at school, why would you send them late and not notify parents?" she said. 
 
But Bir said another major issue was that she also reached out to her local trustee and others in the TDSB, and while they said they would look into it, she wasn't given an update and then took to Twitter to voice her frustration. 

TSTG general manager Kevin Hodgkinson has looked into the case. 

"I think it's safe to say there was a failure of service in terms of communication and in terms of what they delivered here," he said. 

Hodgkinson says parents can use an email portal where bus companies update if they're going to be late, but after a certain amount of time passes, they have to call. 

"So that communication didn't happen for the rest of the week, so there were certainly those failures in communication and the company is certainly aware of that now and they've certainly addressed that with their dispatch teams in terms of making sure that that is consistently updated every day," he said. 

NEWSTALK1010 has reached out to the company, but has not heard back. 

PART OF A BIGGER ISSUE 

But Hodgkinson said this is part of a larger problem, that isn't unique to Toronto. 

The city is dealing with a driver shortage, like much of the province and combined with the thousands of late registrations in the summer, there have been other similar transportation issues this fall. 

"I'd love to say it was a one-time only thing," he said. "Routes are constantly changing each week for the operators, so at some point in time, if they're not getting those changes communicated to the dispatch and communicated to the driver, there could be those missteps there." 

The TSTG estimates they're dealing with a shortage of about 20 to 25 drivers in the city. 

Trustees and school boards rely on the TSTG for answers when problems occur.

"Information is not always instantaneous for us, we do sometimes have to take the time to look into what actually happened, investigate and do some due diligence." 

But Bir says she just wants to be kept in the loop. 

"I'm willing to be flexible in the first couple of weeks in the school year to understand that you do have to figure out the routes," she said. "However, my most frustrating concern and still is, is a lack of communication."