Driver shortage, new training program blamed for Calgary school bus delays

Driver training blamed for Calgary school bus delays
WATCH: Some Calgary kids have been late for school this fall, and one school bus company is blaming the tardiness on a shortage of drivers. Adam MacVicar reports.

A Calgary school bus company is blaming a newly-implemented driver training program for delays around the city.

Southland Transportation Ltd. sent a letter to families in the Conseil Scolaire FrancoSud this week, notifying them of a driver coverage challenge that is impacting some routes.

The letter, obtained by Global News, said the delays are causing some children to be late to school in the morning and home in the afternoon.

The cause of the delays is being attributed to a recent change to driver training in Alberta, implemented in March by the former NDP government.

According to the Ministry of Transportation, the Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) program is an international standard for class one and two licensing, and soon commercial drivers with those licences will need MELT if they plan to enter the United States.

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MELT is described as a step above the requirements to receive a class one or two licence.

Training includes a government-mandated number of classroom and road training hours, and standardized curriculums that are included in the road tests for commercial licences.

READ MORE: ‘Chaos in the industry’: Complaints mount over new Alberta driver exam system

Southland Transportation said the new training created a backlog to get their drivers licenced and on the road.

“Due to the criteria and short timeline of the MELT program introduction, we could not put any trainees through our program for over a month,” Southland Transportation said in a statement to Global News.

“This, coupled with the lack of driver examiners at that time, put us behind at the end of the last school year.”

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The statement goes on to say that Southland also had a higher-than-expected turnover rate over the summer, which added to the situation.

“Southland Transportation is deeply sorry for the frustration and impact this has caused and are working diligently to meet our customers’ expectations,” the statement said.

“Right now, our top priority is catching up on the tens of thousands of drivers exams that we’re behind on since March,” Alberta transportation minister Ric McIver said.

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“We think we’re going to start making ground in the fall when the peak period for driver exams is passed, but we still have a few months of work to do before we can even hope to be called caught up.”

READ MORE: Alberta to license 20 new driver examiners to meet increased demand for tests

The provincial government announced this week that 20 new driver examiners from outside the government would be licenced and placed in areas of high demand.

McIver believes the government is behind on around 30,000 driver exams, but it’s unclear how many of those are specifically school bus drivers.

To help speed up the process and resolve the backlog, McIver said school bus drivers have been exempted from the MELT requirements until July 2020.

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School bus safety in Calgary

A decision whether to keep the MELT program or cancel it has yet to be made.

“We have not made a decision, but by the time next summer comes around we hope to have figured that out and put a system in place where Albertans won’t have to go through another terrible summer.”

In the meantime, Southland Transportation said their in-house recruiting and training departments are working at full capacity to make sure there are enough drivers in place to get students to school safely — and on time.

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