Ontario ombudsman criticizes Toronto school boards for 2016 school bus delays
Toronto two largest school boards “mishandled” a bus driver shortage that affected more than 1,000 students and dozens of bus routes, according to a new report from Ontario’s ombudsman.
Paul Dubé launched the investigation in September 2016 following outcry from parents across the Greater Toronto Area after children were left waiting for buses that were either delayed or never arrived.
The report said the boards’ “actions and inactions” led to thousands of students being stranded. The Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board — both of which use buses from a consortium of companies — said at the time there were about 60 routes that didn’t have drivers.
“I think that there were balls dropped across the board,” Dubé said.
“There was a shortage of drivers known that wasn’t communicated to the transportation group and then once the transportation group knew, they delayed in communicating with the board and then once the board knew, there was no communication to parents, no warning until the crisis actually had happened.”
Dubé said there was a “communications failure” on several fronts and has made several recommendations including taking inventory earlier in the year, having meetings before the school year and determining if routes are adequately covered.
Both boards said the problems stemmed from a driver shortage from three companies: Attridge Transportation, Wheelchair Accessible Transit and Sharp Bus Lines.
VIDEO: Ontario ombudsman decries disruption to school buses last year
“Thousands of students were stranded when their buses showed up late or not at all. Parents had to scramble to arrange transportation and some spent terrifying hours not knowing where their children were when they were dropped off at the wrong spots,” Dubé said.
“This was no mere inconvenience. There were serious cases where vulnerable children were at risk.”
Dubé said the investigation would focus on whether the boards’ “oversight of student transportation and their response to delays and disruptions” at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year was “adequate.”
“From the beginning, we have welcomed the Ombudsman’s Office looking at student transportation,” TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said in a statement Thursday.
“We believe that between today’s report and the steps that we have already taken, we’ll ensure bussing runs more smoothly in September and the disruptions of last year are not repeated.”
He added his investigators would interview officials and witnesses, in addition to gathering all information from the school boards and their transportation consortium in order to complete the investigation as quickly as possible.
“We look forward to Ombudsman Dubé’s report and hope that it will shine a light on the systemic problems within Ontario’s school bus system,” Debbie Montgomery, President of Unifor Local 4268 that represents the bus drivers, said in a statement Thursday.
“If we want to guarantee stable transportation for our students then the Wynne government needs to implement change.”
VIDEO: Province’s watchdog slams Toronto’s school boards over bus driver shortage. Lama Nicolas reports.
The TDSB said in September the board would recoup costs from the companies that aren’t meeting their service demands.
The ombudsman’s office said it had received a total of 49 complaints about busing problems at TDSB, TCDSB, in addition to several at other school boards and would “keep an eye” on those in addition to the Toronto-focused probe.
With files from The Canadian Press
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