Benoit Bourgault isn’t entirely surprised that Waterloo Region is in the midst of a school bus driver shortage. After all, unemployment is down.
As the general manager of Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region, Bourgault is responsible for arranging all busing for the Waterloo Region District School Board and Waterloo Catholic District School Board.
In his experience, people often look at driving school buses – a part-time job that involves few hours and split shifts – as a last resort.
“Every time the employment gets good, it’s hard to find people that want to work under those conditions,” he says.
Last week, Borgault wrote a letter which was sent to all parents of bused students.
It revealed that the region is in the midst of a shortage of school bus drivers, with 419 full-time drivers for 426 routes.
The remaining seven routes are being covered by replacement drivers – although that has created a ripple staff that sees office staff sometimes getting behind the wheel.
As a result, parents have been warned about possible delays on some routes.
“Adding 30 more drivers would probably get us back to having the full service,” Bourgault says.
As the largest school bus provider in Waterloo-Wellington, Elliott Coach Lines is feeling the effects of the shortage itself.
Company president Chris Harwood describes being a driver as “one of the most secure jobs around” given operators’ constant search for new drivers, and says incentives based on attendance and safety are being offered in a bid to attract new drivers.
“It’s not for everybody – but it is for retirees, for stay-at-home parents, and even for entrepreneurs,” he says.
In his letter, Bourgault told parents that he expected the shortage to be alleviated within 60 days.
With reporting by Stu Gooden