School bus driver shortage means canceled routes in Montreal

Click to play video: 'Quebec parents fuming over school bus driver shortage'
Quebec parents fuming over school bus driver shortage
WATCH: Some parents have been facing additional stress in recent weeks. A shortage of drivers for school buses means there are often last minute cancellations of bus routes, forcing those with children in school to suddenly find alternate transportation. As Global's Phil Carpenter reports, bus operators and educators fear it could take a while before the problem is solved. – Sep 30, 2022

Some Montreal-area parents have been facing additional stress in recent weeks.

A shortage of drivers for school buses means there are often last minute cancellations of buses, forcing those with kids in school to find alternate ways to get transportation for the children.

“On a daily basis we notice we’re missing two or three of those bus drivers, so that means there are probably about 100, 150 that are not going to be able to get to school,” Carol Heffernan, Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) assistant director general, told Global News.

According to her the shortage is much worse this time than in previous years.

“It’s not just in Quebec,” she observed.  “It’s right across Canada.”

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Some parents on Montreal’s South Shore say there, the school year started out just fine, but within two weeks some buses stopped coming.

“Now we’ve had two weeks of no morning bus, except for one time they had a replacement for the morning,” said Allie Fetherston, a single mother with a 5-year-old in the Riverside School Board system.

That board’s administration officer Corinne Laydu-Durnin agrees that the problem is province-wide.

She wrote in an email, on behalf of director general Lucie Roy, “some of our routes are not covered daily and parents must find other means of transportation to bring their child/children to school.  We are working closely with our transporters to adjust their offer of service to meet the need of transportation on our territory.”

Parents that Global News spoke with said they only find out hours before a scheduled pickup that there won’t be a bus, and that in some places the bus just doesn’t show up.

Often drivers call in sick and there are no replacements, according to the LBPSB.

Travis Chalmers who has a daughter in the LBPSB jurisdiction on Montreal’s West Island agrees.

“I think for special needs and adapted transit it’s been a lot harder.” he pointed out.

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He is sympathetic to the school boards and the bus companies though, something which Andrew Jones, president of bus companies Transport Scolaire Elite and Autobus Beaconsfield said he’s grateful.

His company also services some LBPSB schools. The business owner said he’s never seen a shortage this bad, but he’s lucky so far his companies have been able to service all their routes.

“But we’re only able to because I’m on the road, my mechanic’s on the road, my dispatcher’s on the road,” he pointed out.

He believes two of the the main reason for the shortage are the $18 – $20 an hour and working conditions – early mornings, even if the split shifts means some drivers get to spend more time with family during the day.

“I had two interviews scheduled at 10 am and 11 am and both were no-shows,” he said.  “When you contact them back they say, ‘you know what, I found something better, you couldn’t offer me enough pay.’ ”

Jones believes the pay needs to improve and the six to eight weeks it takes a driver to get a license, is too long. He couldn’t think of a short-term solution.

Meanwhile Heffernan is asking for parents to be patient.

“Be kind,” she stressed.  “Be kind to your bus driver.”

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Both boards said they are working to find solutions.

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