For the past two weeks each school day has come with at least one route cancellation for students in the Sooke School District, which says it is facing a province-wide bus driver shortage.
A Twitter search of the district’s page shows that the first cancellation came on May 16 with one route cancelled for both the morning and evening runs.
Since that day, at least one route has been cancelled each school day, with a high of three routes cancelled on May 17 and 19.
Scott Stinson, the superintendent and CEO of the Sooke School District says there have been efforts to affect families as little as possible.
“We have a few backup drivers, and what we’ve seen lately is more absence as a result of illness or appointments and so on than we can fill through backup drivers,” Stinson told CHEK News.
“And even at that, our transportation manager will often drive a route, our mechanic will go out and drive a route if we need to. So we call in everyone that we can. Just recently, we’ve had a number of absences that have been beyond our capacity to backfill and that’s when we ended up having to cancel a route.”
The Sooke district is working to hire more bus drivers in order to avoid cancelling routes as a result of the shortage, and is even offering training for people interested in becoming a bus driver.
In handling the cancellations each day, Stinson says there are efforts to make sure one route isn’t being affected more than others.
“Even if the same driver is away, we’ll try and shift things around so that it’s not a constant pressure on one particular area in the school district,” Stinson said.
With the bus cancellations, Stinson says he is aware that some families do not have alternate means of getting their kids to school so he is aware that some students may have had to miss classes as a result.
“It certainly puts a pressure on families, and I recognize that, which is why this is a last resort for us to have to cancel runs,” Stinson said.
“In some circumstances, it does mean that, that a student may not be able to get to school, in many cases, they’ll carpool or they’ll work together in partnership.”
For the upcoming school year, Stinson says the district has been approved to purchase seven more buses.
“We’ve been approved for seven additional buses through the ministry next year as part of the capital program, and our board is committed to making sure that those are electric buses,” Stinson said.
“So we will be expanding our fleet of electric buses into next year and now we just need to make sure we’ve got enough drivers to be able to run all of those routes.”