Superintendent discusses challenges of bus route planning in 2020

By Jenn Watt

Bus driver shortages have posed issues for schools across the province and at Trillium Lakelands District School Board the superintendent of business services said it’s not yet clear whether there will be busing issues locally. 

During the board of trustees meeting on Sept. 8, superintendent Tim Ellis said bus routing was originally done in May, and with re-registration numbers changing so much in recent weeks, routing is currently being updated. 

Ellis said he could foresee two scenarios, one where the reduction in students attending classes in school buildings meant fewer drivers were needed, and another in which some drivers decide the new work environment with COVID-19 protocols was not suitable for them. 

“As we know that we have roughly 2,000 children that are not opting in to go to schools [instead choosing to learn at home], that means the amount of children that need to be picked up is going to drop a significant chunk, which may mean the ability for us to consolidate some routes, which may reduce the requirement to find more drivers,” Ellis said. 

“On the other hand,” he continued, “we are at 25 per cent of our elementary students [who] attended school today. As we ramp up to 100 per cent, some of the drivers might get that overwhelming feeling, particularly with the enhanced procedures that we are asking of them in terms of hand sanitizing and things like that, so we may also see a few more resignations coming down the pipe.”

On the first day back to school, 12 routes required work, Ellis said, particularly in the northern part of the board. 

“We are working with the providers to see what they can do about shoring up their lineup,” he said. 

During the week of Sept. 8 to 11, elementary students are returning to school in phases. About 15 per cent of students across TLDSB have chosen to learn from home, with a virtual school starting the week of Sept. 14. 

In his report on the 2019-2020 school year, Ellis told trustees that transportation services had contracted 337 vehicles, moving 13,350 students across the district, which is more than 11,500 square kilometres. 

The average ride time for students in the last school year was 24 minutes with less than two per cent of students having a ride longer than an hour. His report explained that those who are on a bus for more than an hour either live very far from a school or have chosen to attend a school other than their home school. 

The average distance an elementary school student walked to a bus stop in 2019-2020 was 240 metres; for secondary students, that average was 370 metres. 

Last year there were 25 minor accidents “which were primarily minor collisions with no major injuries to any students. Bus operators continue to be diligent in the delivery of defensive driving and accident avoidance training as required in their contract with the board,” the report says. 

Bus cancellations were fewer in winter of 2019 than in the year previous with only one for Haliburton, down from eight in 2018.