3rd straight week of school bus route cancellations in Peterborough area

Several dozen school bus routes remain cancelled in Peterborough area due to driver shortage. Global Newsfile

Since the start of the school year, many families in Norwood, Havelock, Cobourg and Clarington have been stuck finding alternative ways to get their children to school.

The ongoing bus driver shortage at First Student has led to the cancellation of around 40 routes, mostly rural, by Student Transportation Services of Central Ontario (STSCO).

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“We just can’t wait for First Student to bring in extra drivers because the weeks are passing,” said STSCO chief administrative officer Joel Sloggett.  “The school boards are reviewing other options.”

Sloggett said that includes assigning routes to other drivers within other companies, but noted that wasn’t an easy task as there’s not an abundance of extra drivers in the area, doubling up routes meaning a driver would do two runs to the same school, and combining underutilized routes.

He said this is all pending board approval.

“We can’t go into a fourth week without a plan,” he said.

The director of education for the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board (PVNCCDSB) said combining routes may not be ideal due to COVID-19 restrictions, but that something needs to be done quickly to rectify the ongoing shortage.

“Time is critical.  From a family point of view, they wanted this sorted out yesterday.  From a board and bus company point of view, none of these changes are simple.  They will take weeks, not days, to be sorted out,” Michael Nasello said.

“One of the biggest problems is the demographics of our drivers.  Most are retired and they’ve come back in to drive a school bus.  The pandemic is more of an issue for those in that age bracket and others.  We do know why it’s happening, but it doesn’t solve the issue either,” noted Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board chair Diane Lloyd.

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“If we want to give these routes to another bus company, there’s a rulebook about how to do that and it will take a few weeks to put in-place.  We just need to find a solution.  We understand the importance of it,” she added.

Sloggett noted that First Student was its largest busing provider for the area with more than 200 routes and that, with the exception of 30-35 routes, all routes are filled and that all companies are dealing with shortages.

The busing consortium is asking parents to routinely check its website for the latest on route cancellations.

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Unifor Local 4268 represents school bus drivers at First Student.

President Debbie Montgomery told Global News Peterborough that an undisclosed number of drivers chose to either quit or retire at the start of the school year due to safety reasons.

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“They’re not getting the proper PPE or getting it in-time.  It’s a ticking time bomb,” she said.

“In the Peterborough area, First Student has had to cancel routes due to a shortage of drivers. We certainly understand that even one day without school bus transportation is a burden for families,” stated Chris Kemper, First Student spokesperson.  “We are actively recruiting and hiring in the Peterborough area and encourage those who may be interested to apply. We’re also offering hiring incentives right now, including a sign-on bonus.”

Many First Student routes remain cancelled all across Ontario.

A full list of the cancelled routes for STSCO can be found here.

UPDATE 3:25 p.m. Monday: STSCO tells Global News that four of the cancelled routes in the Norwood area will be filled ‘as early as Wednesday’.

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