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Public school board petitions provincial aid to address bus driver shortage

The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board is sending a letter to the Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of Education asking the province to expedite the certification process for new bus drivers and further assist in addressing the bus driver shortage plaguing the area.  In some instances families have not had busing for two years.

The local public school board is reaching out to the province to expedite the certification of new bus drivers in order to address ongoing shortages.

“This is the most challenging year I’ve ever faced,” said Joel Sloggett. Student Transportation Services of Central Ontario (STSCO) CAO during the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board’s recent regular meeting. “It is a new reality that we’re dealing with.”

Sloggett termed the combination of challenges, including a significantly higher number of students than last September, “a perfect storm” buffeting an already soggy system trying to address a province-wide driver shortage on top of the usual issues such as parents seeking out-of -boundary transportation.

“It’s all put a lot more stress on a system that is already struggling,” said Sloggett noting Northumberland and Clarington are being hit the hardest with some families experiencing a second year without transportation for their children.

Sloggett said STSCO is doing its best to work with existing resources but has received close to 1,500 service requests since August.

“We usually get to see some light at the end of the tunnel by the end of September but [the COVID-19] The pandemic has made that extremely difficult,” added Sloggett. “This is something we’re going to be grappling with throughout the school year and most likely into the next one as well.”

At present, STSCO – which operates 570 buses in Northumberland, Peterborough and Clarington, many of them covering two school routes, servicing 24,000 riders – is short 21 drivers. Sloggett also noted the system needs about 50 “spare drivers” to cover illness, school charters and student trips in order to “get us back to where we were in 2019.”

However, notes Sloggett, even if there was a sudden influx of applicants, there are significant delays in the approval process at the provincial level and qualified individuals still face a month of training.

The school board is committed to helping mitigate the issue.

During the meeting, trustees passed a motion to send a letter petitioning the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Transportation to expedite the certification process for new bus drivers and assist with supports to address ongoing bus driver shortages locally and across the province.

The board is also looking at other options such as adjusting bell times.

As well, Sloggett is hoping to discuss options with Peterborough Transit. Passes were provided to students during the height of the pandemic and many students continue to use the service, albeit, covering the cost themselves.

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