While the focus of the Ottawa Carleton District School Board for the past few months has been about what pronouns to call students, the board has to figure out how to get them to the schools first.
As most schools open across the city and province this week, the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority is short staffed by 130 drivers, meaning approximately 9,000 students will be without a ride to school. The OSTA reached contracts with nine out of 10 bus companies, but failed to reach a deal with a contractor for west end routes, including to schools in rural communities. Some parents of students who attend South Carleton High School have reached out to the Manotick Messenger, saying they will have no way to get their children to school, as they rely on the school bus to take their kids to school while they commute into the city to work. With no city bus service available in the rural areas, several local families are in a difficult situation.
OSTA Chief Administrative Officer Vicky Kyriaco said on CTV Ottawa that the start of the school year will be a “bumpy road.”
The OSTA said they plan to hand out single-ride OC Transpo vouchers to families affected by the driver shortage. While that will help in communities where OC Transpo is an option for students to get to school, it will not help any families in rural areas.
“Despite OSTA’s best efforts, with the loss of one of the bus companies (that served 36 routes) and the ongoing driver shortage, there will be transportation disruptions for many students at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board and the Ottawa Catholic School Board,” said a statement posted on the OSTA website Aug. 30. “While OSTA has successfully secured transportation for most students in the Ottawa area, we understand this news is frustrating and challenging for families affected by cancellations. We are working with our other bus operators to devise viable solutions for affected routes. We have also continued to support our Operators with driver recruitment efforts through another multi-pronged driver recruitment campaign (driveyellow.ca) to attract new drivers to the workforce.”
The school bus driver shortage has been a problem since the COVID-19 outbreak. Many drivers are seniors, and many left their jobs as school bus drivers as they did not want to be exposed to the virus. Although some drivers who left eventually came back, many did not.
At the end of the 2022-23 school year, many bus drivers would not work because of the smoke and bad air quality in the region, caused by forest fires in the Calabogie and Algonquin Park areas.
The problem has left parents scrambling to find options, and desperate to find out who can fix the situation. The Ontario Ministry of Education provides funding for transportation for all 73 publicly funded school boards in the province, but the province’s involvement ends there. Ultimately, the school boards are responsible for overall decisions related to providing student transportation, including establishing policies and eligible criteria.
School resumes for Ottawa’s two English language school boards on Tues., Sept. 5.