Questions loom over Quebec’s back-to-school bus transportation plan

Click to play video 'Montreal area school boards trying to figure out transportation issues for students as the school year looms' Montreal area school boards trying to figure out transportation issues for students as the school year looms
WATCH: With many bus drivers of retirement age, many school bus companies are finding themselves short staffed, due to COVID-19 fears. As Global's Olivia O'Malley explains, physical distancing measures being enforced on school buses means fewer students can be transported – Aug 18, 2020

As kids count down the days before they head back to class, many students still don’t know how they will get there.

“There already was a shortage of bus drivers last year and it’s not going to be any better restarting school right now,” said CSN Bus Drivers’ Union president Stephen Gauley.

According to Gauley, 50 per cent of bus drivers are over the age of 55. With their age placing them at a greater health risk, he says many worried drivers retired over the summer.

Read more: Coronavirus: New poll suggests Quebecers less concerned about heading back to school

But on top of the shortage, school boards are facing a logistical nightmare.

A large bus that typically holds 60-70 students must now only hold a maximum of 48.

Story continues below advertisement

“But with the new government regulations, it’s dropped… so we’re losing a lot of spaces and that’s where we are seeing the challenges,” said Carol Heffernan, assistant director general of the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB).

Parents who can bring their kids to school or carpool are encouraged to alleviate space.

Read more: Lester B. Pearson School Board appoints two commissioners to fight racism within the board

The LBPSB sent parents a survey in July to get a more accurate number of how many students will need busing.

Heffernan said about 800 students said they would be staying in daycare, therefore having no need for busing, but it still leaves the school board to plan hundreds of thousands of bus routes for other students.

In addition to the limited capacity, the Education Ministry released a number of guidelines that must be followed on school buses.

Guidelines include: hands must be sanitized when kids get on the bus, only two students will be allowed per bench and siblings must sit together.

In addition, masks are mandatory for kids Grade 5 and up, and encouraged for younger kids.

Read more: Lawsuit to challenge Quebec back to school plan requiring in person attendance

Story continues below advertisement

“It’s a great idea because they’re getting off the bus, they’ll be walking right into school, they’ll be washing their hands and going to their classrooms so it just seems a logical coherent strategy,” said Heffernan.

Bus drivers will have to wipe down high touch surfaces after each trip, do a throughout cleaning once a day and wear masks on buses without Plexiglas dividers.

The Riverside School Board told Global News some bus transportation companies have installed Plexiglas dividers for the bus drivers.

But Gauley argues it should be an obligation in all buses, in order to make the limited amount of bus drivers feel safe.

Since thousands of students have no alternatives.