During the most recent Northern Lights Public School Board Meeting Transportation Director Matt Richter gave an update on the challenges the transportation department has been experiencing this year.
Richter says the weather has had a bigger impact on the transportation operations this year than in previous years.
“So far, the division has canceled buses on seven days for all schools in the division and there were an additional six days when buses were canceled in one community or region of the division.”
Richter praised the professionalism and dedication of the division’s drivers who persevered through difficult road and weather conditions while still facing many of the same challenges from previous years.
“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 canceled temporarily until someone is available to drive that route.”
Recruitment and retention have been a huge problem as the job is part-time with a split shift. 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.
Another major issue facing the transportation department is the rise in insurance costs. After the big increase, last year operators were again hit with another substantial increase this year as well as an increase in their deductibles from $2,500 to $10,000.
Richter says it is unknown at this time what insurance costs will look like for next year.
“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.” Richter also says Fuel costs have become a greater concern as well. “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.”
The provincial budget included a 4.6% increase in transportation funding but Richter says it is not enough to offset the increases bus contractors are experiencing.
The possibility of working with other local school divisions for increased efficiency has been brought up but was shut down because the divisions are already running buses at capacity.
Richter notes bus drivers are doing double runs in some communities where they drop off a full load of students and then proceed to pick up more students in town.