Wednesday , 8 December 2021

NLPS says shortage of bus drivers is a serious situation

For the past couple of years, NLPS has been experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. Last year, they had more route cancellations than normal due to the lack of spare drivers available to fill in for drivers when they were sick or unable to do their routes. This year, the shortage is even worse.

Nicole Garner is the Communications Officer for NLPS.

“Some of our contractors did not return this year and one contractor gave notice to end their routes in September,” Garner said. We have consolidated many routes in all of our communities, packing more kids onto buses and lengthening ride times to ensure we can transport as many students to school as possible.”

Garner says even with all of those adjustments they have one route that has been without a contractor/driver since early October.

“With no contractor willing to take on that route, we are in the process of training a driver and purchasing a bus so we can do it ourselves,” Garner said. “Even once that is completed, we will not have any extra drivers to fill in or take on a route if someone is ill or no longer able to do their route.”

The NLPS Board gave all contractors a 3 per cent increase this year, despite not receiving an increase in funding from the provincial government.

“Our funding for transportation remains the same as last year, at $5.594 million. Increasing our financial support for contractors is challenging as we are working with a fixed amount of funding that can be used for transportation,” Garner said. “There are only two ways that we can increase what we spend on transportation: one is to charge fees (which we currently do for in-town busing where we are able to provide it), and the other is to transfer money from the instructional portion of our budget, which would impact our classrooms.”

The increased cost of insurance, training drivers, fuel, and parts and repairs are all making it difficult for our contractors to continue to operate in the Lakeland. Insurance costs have skyrocketed over the last two years, increasing by as much as $5,000 per bus, with smaller operators being hit with the biggest increases. Training costs have increased nearly 60 per cent during that time as well.  NLPS started its own driving school so it could train drivers locally and this has helped reduce costs for our contractors, but the extended training time due to the Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) program makes it harder to recruit drivers.

“Costs for parts have increased by over 50 per cent and shipping issues make them harder to get,” Garner said. “Fuel prices have also increased. The government used to have a fuel price contingency program to help boards and contractors deal with wild fluctuations in fuel prices, but that was discontinued back in 2013.”

The Board has been working on this issue steadily for the last couple of years, raising the issue every time they meet with local MLA’s or government ministers, partnering with other school jurisdictions to look for solutions, and participating in the provinces Transportation Task Force.

“A variety of options have been explored, but unfortunately none have resulted in a solution to offset or prevent any of these increased costs for contractors,” Garner said. “We want all of our parents and guardians to be aware of how serious this situation has become and the complexity of what we are dealing with. We also need your help. If you know anyone who is interested in driving a bus, please put them in touch with our Director of Transportation by calling 780-826-6038. Parent voice is also crucial to bringing attention to this issue and encouraging those who have the power to make changes to do so. If you have the opportunity to speak or write to your MLA about this issue and lend your voice to our efforts, that would be much appreciated.”

About Arthur C. Green

Arthur C. Green is from Whitbourne Newfoundland and graduated from the CNA Journalism Program. Arthur also studied Business Marketing and Political Science at Memorial University in Essex England and St. John's Newfoundland. Green has worked for such organizations as CBC, CBC Radio, NTV, Saltwire, Great West Media, CKLB Radio, Vista Radio, and Postmedia. He also loves Jiggs Dinner!