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Ontario Ombudsman says school boards were 'complacent' about bussing issues

Last Updated Aug 10, 2017 at 3:20 pm EDT

The Ontario Ombudsman’s investigation into school bussing problems at the Toronto public and Catholic school boards revealed they approached the issue with “a sense of complacency and were unprepared when the crisis hit.”

Ombudsman Paul Dubé said the two boards and the transport provider they share did not heed early warning signs that several bus routes had no drivers, leaving thousands of students stranded at the start of the school year. He added that given the “unprecedented” scope of the problem, it should have been obvious before the school year began.

Ombudsman investigators found that officials were aware of problems as far back as early 2016.

After the signing of a new transportation contract and a new method for assigning routes was implemented, several routes were repeatedly revised. The result was that some operators were unable or unwilling to cover those routes.

The impending “significant service delivery issues” were communicated to both boards by a top transportation official five days before the start of school, on Sept. 1. But neither board adequately warned parents till Sept. 8 and 9.

“My investigation found that, far from being unpredictable and beyond the control of the school boards and Toronto Student Transportation Group, the 2016 transportation disruptions were rooted in their actions and inactions before the start of the school year,” Dubé writes.

The investigation looked at 127 complaints – ranging from special needs children being dropped off at the wrong stops to a mother losing her job because her daughter’s school bus was repeatedly late, in turn making her regularly late for work.

Dubé made 42 recommendations in the report and the TDSB and TCDSB have accepted them, saying they don’t anticipate significant challenges like those seen last year.

The boards say some changes they have already made include giving bus operators routes earlier in the planning process, installing new bus routing software and launching an online transportation portal to allow parents to access information and get email notifications if there are any school bus cancellations or delays.

With files from The Canadian Press

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