More than 30 school bus routes across Simcoe County were running anywhere from 15 to 75 minutes late Monday morning.
While an official with the Simcoe County Student Transportation Consortium acknowledged that the road to back-to-school this year may have been a bumpy one so far, only some of the current delays can be attributed to new COVID-19 health measures.
Provincewide, a driver shortage has added additional road blocks into the mix.
John Barbato, chief executive officer with the consortium, said this week that all the new health protocols outlined by the Ministry of Education have been implemented on local school buses.
Locally, Barbato said the consortium oversees the protocols, however bus drivers are employed by contractors. First Student and Landmark are two of the companies responsible for busing students across Simcoe County. Neither company returned a request for comment by publication time.
“So far, we’ve been able to cover all the routes and get the kids to school,” he said. “We’re working through service disruptions as we do every year as we settle into routines. There are some new routines this year.
“Those routines are part of the delay, but every year, at the beginning of the school year, we experience delays. We work through those with our partners to mitigate service disruption to families,” added Barbato.
While school-bus drivers in Simcoe County are not unionized, many in other municipalities across Ontario are.
Debbie Montgomery is president of Unifor Local 4268, which represents bus drivers across Ontario. She says back-to-school this year in Ontario has been difficult due to COVID.
“With social media being so prominent, we can see rates of pay and wages are certainly all over the map,” Montgomery said. “I’ve had to adjust my thinking. I didn’t realize there are still school-bus drivers in the province only earning minimum wage. I thought it had been stepped up, but unfortunately it is still there.”
Montgomery says there is a lot of anxiety from bus drivers concerning student loads and safety of both students and drivers. She says she has heard from drivers that they are preferring to step back and see how processes unfold before deciding whether they’ll return to work.
“No matter where you are in the province, there is a school-bus driver shortage,” she said. “I think everybody knows that about 60 per cent of the people driving school buses in the province are 60 and up. There are related vulnerabilities that come with age.
“Even their family members are telling them; it’s not worth the risk,” Montgomery added.