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CBE lobbies the province for help with Calgary school bus driver shortage

CBE Trustee have said conversations with service providers show licensing delays, training pay among the biggest barriers.

Roughly 30 of 603 yellow bus routes at the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) are without a regularly assigned driver.

That’s prompted a letter to the province in early February from the CBE Board of Trustees Chair Laura Hack that outlined potential licensing relaxations that could help ease the driver shortage. The letter was delivered in the agenda package for the regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday.

The CBE told LiveWire Calgary on Tuesday they have roughly 20,000 students registered for transportation in the 2022/23 school year.

They said they’re trying to make sure students are picked up.

“The service providers attempts to cover these routes using spare drivers, floaters, and other drivers with an assigned route. In some cases, the route may not be covered by the service providers,” read a statement from the CBE.

“For families, this means an increased chance of delays or finding alternative ways to get their child to school, which can create stress and uncertainty.”  

Hack’s letter said they’ve consulted with service providers on barriers to recruiting more drivers to fill the vacant spots.

“During our many consultations with service providers, they have identified that the largest challenge they experience is the delay incurred is potential drivers receiving training and their road test permit,” Hack wrote in the letter.

“The result is that drivers are without pay for up to six weeks while they undertake the Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) and longer still as they await to be road tested.”

The letter suggests increased road test permit openings, provincial funding for training wages, probationary licensing, pre-booking road tests, a special “bus driver” licensing to limit Class 2 job crossover, and allowing language supports for drivers learning English – among others.

“We recognize that a complex problem like the driver shortage will not be solved with
just one initiative,” the letter read.

“However, cumulatively the implementation of various initiatives can make a difference.”

Steps taken to minimize the impact: CBE

The CBE said they’ve taken a series of steps to reduce the impact on riders.

They’ve increased capacity by expanding to other service providers, including Calgary Transit. CT temporarily chartered 15 buses in September. They’ve also tweaked low ridership routes and switched some to transportation providers with smaller buses.

The CBE said they continue to communicate with parents and schools.

In the CBE statement, they said they’ve invited the province to collaborate on potential options to address the driver shortage. 

“Our collective goal is to ensure students are able to get to school reliably and consistently,” the statement read.

Alberta Education said Wednesday that they recognized more than 300,000 Alberta K-12 students rely on student transportation services. They said they’re taking this situation seriously.

“We continue to monitor the bus driver situation closely and have been in regular contact with school authorities and school bus contractors about their recruiting challenges,” wrote Alberta Education press secretary, Emily Peckham, in an email. 

“We appreciate the efforts that CBE has made to address the driver shortage challenges they are facing.

Peckham said that they’ve increased transportation funding for school authorities and provided additional help with the Fuel Price Contingency Program. She said they project the latter program will save schools $15 million by the end of this school year.

Licensing questions were directed to Alberta Transportation. No response has been received yet.

Yellow school bus service was cancelled on Tuesday due to the heavy snow in Calgary. Late Tuesday, the CBE said they would consult with providers and determine early Wednesday if buses could run.