Edmonton and surrounding areas are experiencing a school bus driver shortage, with both the Edmonton Public (EPSB) and Edmonton Catholic (ECSD) school divisions seeing buses running up to two hours behind schedule.
“We continue to experience significant transportation delays, as our contracted carriers deal with a shortage of school bus drivers,” a spokesperson for ECSD told Global News in a statement.
“We have not had to cancel a route to date, but we understand the delays are extremely frustrating for our families.”
EPSB expressed the same problems, adding its “division student transportation team is working closely with carriers to minimize disruptions as much as possible, report delays when they occur and provide updated information to schools about impacted routes.”
Golden Arrow bus company said as of Friday, roughly 20 of its runs don’t have a driver, but it’s actively recruiting.
“We understand the pain that people are feeling,” vice-president Tom McGratton said.
“There’s lots of people working hard to try to find the people, but it’s just to get the people coming through the door to apply for the jobs.”
COVID-19 is part of the problem, but McGratton said bus driver shortages are not new.
“It’s been the last few years, but I think it seems like it’s getting worse,” he said.
Carriers like Cunningham Transport said the industry-wide driver shortage is affecting up 25 per cent of its runs and there are a number of reasons why.
“It’s a hard sell to attract people to come drive,” general manager Laura Doroshenko said in an email to Global News.
“Training to drive a school bus involves 53.5 hours of a newly mandated MELT 2S training course by Alberta Transportation. Not many people are interested in doing this three-week course in order to drive bus part-time.”
Doroshenko said wages also need to be increased to “support a better workforce.”
“That means more money given to the boards to give to the contractors hiring drivers.”
In an email, Southland Transportation said its not immune to the shortage either.
“Multiple factors are impacting the driver shortage, including availability and extension of CERB benefits, drivers moving to full-time work, continued concern with rising COVID-19 numbers, and anxieties related to health risks associated with COVID-19 variant exposures,” edmonton general manager Cory Sandstra said.
“We have put several measures in place to cover routes and are thankful to have a dedicated team of drivers helping fill the gaps as best we can. Each day, we are successfully recruiting and training qualified drivers, however, the time to complete this valuable training for a new candidate limits the time in which recovery will occur.”
Delays are expected to continue for the coming weeks, so school divisions and carriers are asking for patience.
“Everybody’s trying,” McGratton said.
“Whether it’s us or other carriers — everybody is working their buns off to try to get it done.”