The Alberta government is removing one layer of training for school bus drivers in the province, a move that it says will bring the province in line with the rest of Canada and help address shortages in the sector.
Aspiring school bus drivers currently have to take mandatory entry level training (MELT) to get their Class 2 licence, which is required to drive certain school buses in Alberta.
“Alberta is an outlier on requiring MELT for Class 2 licences, as no other province or territory in Canada requires it for their bus drivers,” said transportation minister Devin Dreeshen.
“Removing this requirement will make it easier for Albertans to obtain their Class 2 licence if they are able to demonstrate the required knowledge and skills during the knowledge and road test.”
The province said drivers must still obtain an endorsement on their licence in order to drive a school bus that shows they’ve been trained in loading passengers, defensive driving, emergencies and other areas.
There will also be voluntary on-the-job training for drivers to ensure they have the skills needed to operate a bus safely, the province said.
Mark Critch, president of the Alberta School Bus Contractors Association, said the province is short 300 to 500 bus drivers at any given time.
“We have seen that all over the province — very late bus times, lost educational time is huge. The numbers are staggering,” Critch said.
“(There are) kids who just can’t get to school some days because of it.”
Critch said MELT sometimes meant drivers had to travel 150 kilometres away for weeks to take the pricey course.
“In an industry where we can’t find people to work, to try to get them to go away from home for 15 to 20 days to do training has become very difficult,” he said.
“The cost, up to $5,000 a driver at driver training centres to get your licence — it was becoming very, very difficult and near impossible for certain areas of the province to have drivers trained.”
Critch said this change doesn’t mean drivers will be less qualified and therefore unsafe.
“Most people still train (the number of) hours that MELT prescribed or more. It’s just they can do it at different times, different intervals,” he said.
While this is a step towards easing the bus driver shortage, what would really help is better pay, according to Critch.
“There’s competition for labour as it is, and sometimes being a school bus driver is not the most appealing job when you’re competing in the market,” he said.
The change will go into effect April 23.