An ongoing shortage of school bus drivers across Ottawa is leaving parents scrambling to find other ways to get their children to class.
The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA), which contracts local bus companies to provide school transportation, has already announced nearly 90 long-term route cancellations for the city's public and Catholic school boards.
On Friday alone, OSTA cancelled transportation for routes serving students at six schools.
"It's heartbreaking. It's literally heartbreaking what they're saying," said Kanata South Coun. Allan Hubley.
Hubley said he'd spent much of Friday working behind the scenes to replace yellow bus service for young residents in his ward who needed to travel to Canterbury High School and its specialized arts curriculum and Merivale High School.
About 200 families in his ward were affected, Hubley said, pointing out that 55 per cent of all the routes cut by OSTA are found in Kanata South and the nearby wards of Kanata North and Stittsville.
Hubley said he had spoken to parents in Kanata concerned that the route cancellations might close the book on their child's opportunities for enrichment.
"I don't want to see any gifted child lose that opportunity because of a bus cancellation by OSTA," he said.
Not a 'short-term problem'
By Friday afternoon, Hubley and OC Transpo had announced a temporary fix that would see the city transit agency provide two Route 688 buses for students attending Merivale High and one Route 88 bus for students headed to Canterbury.
However, while he and OC Transpo were giving, OSTA was taking away.
The authority announced new cancellations Thursday and Friday affecting students travelling to Sacred Heart High School, Stittsville Public School, A. Lorne Cassidy Elementary School, Holy Spirit School, Holy Redeemer School, St. Philip School, St. Joseph High School, Cedarview Middle School and Jockvale Elementary School.
Maybe OSTA needs to look at upping their game on the salary side. - Coun. Allan Hubley
The cancellations had forced Cindy Wendler's 14-year-old daughter to take OC Transpo from her home in Barrhaven to Canterbury High, riding three different buses on each leg of the journey and spending three hours total on mass transit.
"We can't do it anymore, so we've been carpooling. It's just too much," said Wendler, herself a teacher, noting that all the driving has added new pressures to her workday.
OSTA has set up a recruitment page online to fill the 90 routes cancelled so far this fall, asking for "patient, trustworthy" drivers who "like children." Some of the perks include free training and flexible hours.
Both Hubley and Wendler say what the authority really needs to do is offer better pay.
"You can't advertise $15 to $20 an hour and get new bus drivers wanting to do this job," Wendler said.
"This isn't a short-term problem," added Hubley. "Maybe OSTA needs to look at upping their game on the salary side."