Growing city, high turnover reason for transportation troubles, says driver

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School bus drivers are struggling to keep up with the growing demand as the city’s population rises.

Karen Jolie, who has worked on and off as a driver since 1992, currently drives a special needs bus with First Student Canada, one of the city’s major charter bus carriers, to and from a pre-school in the southeast neighbourhood of McKenzie Towne.

“When I first started driving a school bus, McKenzie Towne didn’t even exist,” Jolie says. As the city expands outward, she says she sees a much higher need for buses.

Darlene Unruh, director of planning and transportation at the Calgary Board of Education, says that nearly 40,000 students out of more than 100,000 students total are transported to schools daily on charter buses, handi-buses, Calgary Transit and by taxi.

Almost half of 49,000 students in the Calgary Catholic School District use buses to get to and from school daily, according to its website.SchoolBus2 resizeAs Calgary continues to expand, the need for school buses grows. According to their website, Calgary Catholic School District says almost half of their students use a school bus during their daily commute.

Photo by Alyssa Quirico

In comparison, only 9,300 Edmonton students are transported daily to public schools.

Bus and route designation, Unruh says, is determined by whether the program is offered at that school, the school’s location and also on the school’s student population. She insists, however, that there are enough school buses for the number of students who need them.

In May, CBC reported that nine new suburban schools would be built by 2016 to accommodate the growing student population in new neighbourhoods.

Until then, many families require the use of school buses because children have to attend school outside of their own neighbourhood.

A scramble for drivers

Jolie says that with such a high turnover rate in the business, a shortage of school bus drivers will always be an issue in Calgary.

“When I first started driving a school bus, McKenzie Towne didn’t even exist.”

— Karen Jolie, First Student Canada school bus driver“This morning they were scrambling for drivers because people get sick and they have to book time off or they might just not show up for work,” she says.

Mike Stiles, assistant location and safety manager with First Student Canada in Calgary, says First Student Canada sends out 650 school buses daily to both Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District schools.

The company is currently in need of 40 more drivers, Stiles says.

“We struggle every year,” he says. “We are now transporting 3,000 extra students this year. In turn, that has increased school bus routes, which does affect our driver shortage.”

Daily commute problem

Select junior high and high schools are serviced by 101 Calgary Transit buses, designated by the City of Calgary. However, those buses are also open to regular patrons for travel.

Kathleen Douglas, 17-year-old Bishop Carroll High School student, says this can make for serious overcrowding on her commute.

Douglas takes two Calgary Transit buses and the C-Train to get to and from school from the southeast community of Douglasdale. She says she often takes buses designated to Mount Royal University.

“The 182 will take you to (Bishop) Carroll but with the 306, if the driver’s nice, he will drop you off at the stop across from the school. But if not, he’ll say ‘it’s an MRU bus, you can’t use this, you need to get off and walk.’”

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