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School bus driver shortage continues in Ottawa: OSTA

The cause for the shortage, the OSTA said, isn't necessarily due to COVID-19, as the authority has been experiencing the shortage since before the pandemic.
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A school bus on a snowy day (Meghan Groff/HalifaxToday.ca)

Ottawa’s school bus driver shortage continues to be a problem for the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) and the students they serve.

Speaking to The Sam Laprade Show on Friday, March 4, Vicky Kyriaco, general manager of the OSTA, said that while the authority was able to hire 138 drivers last September, 132 other drivers have left the industry. 

As Kyriaco put it, the OSTA is not that much further along. 

“We’re only about six drivers ahead of where we [were] and we still need 120 drivers and we’re still chipping away for individual solutions, trying to change our system to address the driver shortage and continuing our recruitment efforts,” she said.

The reason for the shortage is a combination of factors, she added, not just because of drivers recovering from the virus, nor is it necessarily because of money.

“The retiree pool that we used to count on, they’ve got concerns about their health and certainly some of them now who have had their medical procedures delayed because of COVID are starting to move off to get those medical issues taken care of,” she said. “We have snow birds that are starting to travel now. The COVID situation has really made people really change the way they want to live their lives and make different decisions. 

It’s a shortage they’ve been experiencing for years. 

“We’ve had a driver shortage for a number of years now even pre-covid there was a driver shortage,” Kyriaco explained. “We were able to still deliver the service because we were getting creative with the way  routes were designed, etc. But I think things have really changed in the labour market.

Kyriaco said the OSTA is looking for drivers who have experience with their driver’s licence, have a clear driver’s abstract, can pass a vulnerable sector check and police check and are will to get their TB test.

Being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 is not required. However, those who are not vaccinated must take a rapid antigen test twice a week.

Training to drive the bus is included and free. 

And the OSTA doesn’t only have positions available to drive the typical big yellow school bus, Kyriaco explained — they also have fleets that include vans and have programs to “walk and roll” to school. 

For students and parents, however, they can expect to do their part starting next week to help the OSTA figure out what to do for next year. 

A form will be sent home on Monday for every parent of students who are eligible to fill out who take any kind of transportation. 

This will let the OSTA known if parents and student plan on using the service next year. 

Because, as Kyriaco pointed out, parents are choosing to drive their children to school but are not opting out of transportation, causing wasted space on buses. 

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