For the past couple of years, NLPS has been experiencing a shortage of bus drivers. Last year, we had more route cancellations than normal due to the lack of spare drivers available to fill in for drivers when they were sick or unable to do their routes. This year, the shortage is even worse. Some of our contractors did not return this year and one contractor gave notice to end their routes in September.
We have consolidated many routes in all of our communities, packing more kids onto buses and lengthening ride times to ensure we can transport as many students to school as possible. Even with all of those adjustments we have one route that has been without a contractor/driver since early October. With no contractor willing to take on that route, we are in the process of training a driver and purchasing a bus so we can do it ourselves. Even once that is completed, we will not have any extra drivers to fill in or take on a route if someone is ill or no longer able to do their route.
The Board gave all contractors a 3% increase this year, despite not receiving an increase in funding from the provincial government. Our funding for transportation remains the same as last year, at $5.594 million. Increasing our financial support for contractors is challenging as we are working with a fixed amount of funding that can be used for transportation. There are only two ways that we can increase what we spend on transportation: one is to charge fees (which we currently do for in-town busing where we are able to provide it), and the other is to transfer money from the instructional portion of our budget, which would impact our classrooms.
The increased cost of insurance, training drivers, fuel, and parts and repairs are all making it difficult for our contractors to continue to operate. Insurance costs have skyrocketed over the last two years, increasing by as much as $5,000 per bus, with smaller operators being hit with the biggest increases. Training costs have increased nearly 60% during that time as well. NLPS started its own driving school so it could train drivers locally and this has helped reduce costs for our contractors, but the extended training time due to the Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) program makes it harder to recruit drivers.
Costs for parts have increased by over 50% and shipping issues make them harder to get. Fuel prices have also increased. The government used to have a fuel price contingency program to help boards and contractors deal with wild fluctuations in fuel prices, but that was discontinued back in 2013.
The Board has been working on this issue steadily for the last couple of years, raising the issue every time they meet with local MLA’s or government ministers, partnering with other school jurisdictions to look for solutions, and participating in the provinces Transportation Task Force.A variety of options have been explored, but unfortunately none have resulted in a solution to offset or prevent any of these increased costs for contractors.
We want all of our parents and guardians to be aware of how serious this situation has become and the complexity of what we are dealing with. We also need your help. If you know anyone who is interested in driving a bus, please put them in touch with our Director of Transportation by calling 780-826-6038. Parent voice is also crucial to bringing attention to this issue and encouraging those who have the power to make changes to do so. If you have the opportunity to speak or write to your MLA about this issue and lend your voice to our efforts, that would be much appreciated.Posted on