More school bus drivers are needed around the province, including at Chinook’s Edge School Division which is the largest rural school division geographically in Alberta.
Transportation director Corinne Varga said the shortage is very real in Alberta, and Chinook’s Edge has a unique challenge.
“Our geographic area is so spread apart that if we hire someone in Sundre, they’re not going to go to Elnora to drive a bus route,” Varga said.
She said there were enough drivers to fill the routes when school started and four more drivers were hired in September and five in October.
But at least five more spare drivers are needed to temporarily fill in for regular drivers when necessary. One route was cancelled for the day in September when a regular bus driver couldn’t work, four routes were cancelled for a day in October, and so far in November, there were two.
Alberta School Bus Contractors’ Association says it’s facing a major crisis due to changes to insurance premiums and the cost of training.
“There are immediate and urgent issues that must be addressed for school bus contractors to continue with their mandate of carrying students to their schools,” said association president Mark Critch in a statement.
Chinooks’ Edge maintains and runs 84 of its bus routes, and contracts 32 routes in its northern section to Prairie Bus Lines.
Varga said Chinook’s Edge pays new bus drivers on those 84 routes during training which helps trainees.
She said other areas are losing drivers looking for full-time employment, but a lot of Chinook’s Edge drivers work on farms, and recently some positions were filled by mothers looking to have the same days off as their children.
“It’s a great part-time job. Our equipment is safe and the training is top-notch. We don’t put a person in the seat unless they’re totally confident,” Varga said about the job that tends to attract retirees.
Drivers also have free time during the day, and summers off, she added.