Safety concerns prompt rotating school bus cancellations

By Casey Taylor

Local parents whose kids take the bus to school are being told to prepare in advance to find alternative transportation – or to ready for a week of remote learning.

The warning comes as Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region has begun rotating route cancellations due to an ongoing driver shortage.

“While more than 90% of scheduled trips are operating normally, some routes are experiencing more frequent and prolonged delays (50 minutes or greater) due to driver shortages,” reads a recent release. “As a result, Student Transportation Services of Waterloo Region (STSWR) will need to cancel some routes for a short period of time.”

That does, however, suggest as many as one in ten school buses on the road to start the school year has been running nearly an hour or more behind schedule, and STSWR said leaving kids standing road-side that long represents a clear safety risk.

“For safety reasons, we had to take the hard decision to cancel some routes to reduce or eliminate the very long delays,” said STSWR General Manager, Benoit Bourgault.

That means every Friday, new route cancellations will be announced for the coming week while assurances are being made individual routes won't be cancelled for more than one week at a time.

Assurances are also being made routes serving students with special needs will not be affected.

“And that's part of the challenge,” said Bourgault. “Some vehicles are harder to staff and we're cancelling the regular bussing to move the staff over to the special needs [routes].”

Bourgault is also making it clear these changes are due to an ongoing dearth of drivers and resulting delays not, as the local Catholic school board recently seemed to suggest, a hack targeting the Waterloo Region District School Board now under investigation by police.

“The IT issue has nothing to do with it, the driver shortage,” Bourgault said. “They're two different issues.”

As for what options are available to parents, they're being warned either to plan in advance to find another way to get their kids to school on time or to make sure they're ready to learn remotely for a week instead.

STSWR also suggested the rotating cancellations will likely last through to December or longer, though it noted help is also on the way.

“[There are] a large number of drivers in training now that will help reduce significantly the number of cancellations or delays we've been experiencing.”

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