The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) is warning that the ongoing driver shortage has forced it to change or even cancel numerous school bus routes as kids across the city prepare to return to English schools next week.
OSTA oversees student transportation for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB), serving more than 124,000 students at 227 schools.
Last week, OSTA said 107 routes had been cancelled, affecting 2,422 students.
OSTA’s general manager and chief administrative officer Vicky Kyriaco told CBC’s All In A Day Tuesday the authority is now trying to find “creative solutions” for about 1,500 students and is seeking about 70 drivers.
“We’ve got quite a few drivers who are going through the training process right now, and they’ll be available on Sept. 12,” she said.
“We’ve got a number of drivers who are expecting to come back by the end of September, so that will definitely provide some relief.”
OSTA has an aggressive public information campaign to attract more school bus drivers, one Kyriaco said has brought in 25 drivers.
“But we need more,” she said. “We need many, many more.”
All in a Day8:20School bus routes changed, canceled ahead of English public and Catholic boards’ return to school
On Monday, the authority warned of “multiple changes and cancellations to transportation services for OCDSB and OCSB students.”
Some students in grades 7-12 will be moved to OC Transpo, OSTA said Monday. Parents and guardians of children who have been moved to public transit can request a single-ride voucher to accompany their child.
In cases where school bus routes are canceled and there’s no alternative transportation, “parents will need to find alternative transportation to get their children to school for the next few weeks until service stabilizes.”
Compounding the worry this week was the fact that OSTA’s online parent portal, where parents can find more specific information about their children’s school bus routes and schedules, was down Monday.
“As soon as we’re absolutely confident … that all our servers are stable, then we’re going to send a message out to the public so that they can all come back,” Kyriaco said.
That message came Wednesday morning.
OSTA ‘working tirelessly’
In its previous update on Aug. 22, OSTA said “We recognize this is still a challenge for many families, and we are working tirelessly on finding temporary and long-term solutions for the families facing service disruptions. OSTA has planned for full loads and will readjust once school has started and loads are balanced.”
Among those other temporary solutions, OSTA said it’s considering combining routes, adding “congregated stops” and turning to other alternatives such as vans.
In that update OSTA also said it still expects to be able to provide safe, reliable transportation this September to more than 96 percent of the students it serves. The authority also noted that the situation was even worse last September, when “transportation services were disrupted for 12,000 students.”
OSTA said it’s updating information about school bus routes daily. On Tuesday, the list included a total of eight canceled routes affecting students at eight different schools, all within the Catholic board.
School resumes on Sept. 6 for students with both the OCDSB and the OCSB.