Friday , 20 May 2022

NLPS bus driver shortage is now the most extreme the division has experienced, with no solution

The Northern Lights Public Schools Board was presented with an update from their transportation department recently as they continue to struggle with challenges.

Matt Richter, Transportation Director, provided the Board with an update on some of the challenges the transportation department has been experiencing this year.

“Weather has had a bigger impact on operations this year than in the previous year,” Richter told the Board on March 23. “So far, the division has cancelled buses on seven days for all schools in the division and there were an additional six days when buses were cancelled in one community or region of the division.”

Richter praised the professionalism and dedication of the division’s drivers who drove students in difficult road and weather conditions.

The division also continues to experience many of the same challenges as it did last year, but at a more severe level.

Richter said the driver shortage is now the most extreme the division has experienced with no solution in sight. COVID has impacted driver absences and with no substitute drivers available, routes have had to be cancelled temporarily until someone is available to the driver on that route.

Recruitment and retention have also been difficult as it is a part-time job with a split shift and it is more financially feasible for most people to work a full-time minimum wage job. Training continues to impact recruitment as well due to the length of the course. As well, the industry is also recruiting drivers with Class 2 training, Richter told the Board.

“Insurance also continues to be an issue. After a big increase last year, operators were hit with another substantial increase this year as well as an increase in their deductibles from $2,500 to $10,000,” Richter said. “It is unknown at this time what insurance costs will look like for next year.”

Richter said this is going to make it difficult for contractors to commit to routes in June when they don’t know what is happening with insurance costs.

Fuel costs have become a greater concern this year. Richter noted that when contractors signed their contracts in June 2021, diesel was at 94 cents/litre and it is now 1.90 cents/litre. On some runs, operators are now paying more for fuel than what they get paid for the route.

“While the provincial budget included a 4.6 per cent increase to transportation funding, Richter said that will not be enough to offset any of the increases bus contractors are experiencing,” Richter said.

Richter noted he had discussed the possibility of working with the other local school divisions to find some efficiencies, but with the divisions running buses at capacity and experiencing a driver shortage, there would be little impact on the overall number of buses and drivers that are needed. He noted that while people in rural areas may see buses that are not full, by the time the buses arrive at schools they are at capacity. To transport as many students to school as possible, bus drivers in some communities are doing double runs, dropping off a full load of students and then picking up more students in town.

About Arthur C. Green

Arthur C. Green is an award winning journalist and is from Whitbourne Newfoundland. Green 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, River Radio, Vista Radio, and Postmedia. He also loves Jiggs Dinner and can fillet a Codfish.