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Queen's Park to blame for school bus driver shortage: union

Last Updated Sep 8, 2016 at 1:31 pm EDT

Canada’s largest driver’s union is blaming a shortage of school bus drivers in Toronto on Queen’s Park.

Unifor Local 4268 says the province’s current “request for proposals” system for awarding school bus contracts leads to constant instability as school bus companies try to outbid each other for the contracts.

“We have been predicting this and it is the direct result of a deeply flawed competitive procurement program that the province has mandated for the school boards,” union president Debbie Montgomery told 680 NEWS on Thursday.

The lowest bidder often wins and in some cases, it’s the drivers who lose out, especially when it comes to pay. One bus driver, who asked to remain anonymous, told CityNews they were paid by the length of the route. For example, if a driver was stuck in traffic, or had to return to the school to drop off a child because there was no parent at the bus stop, they were paid as if they had driven a normal route.

In addition, a bus driver said their duties extend far beyond driving: from breaking up fights to watching for drivers who don’t obey the flashing lights to monitoring the youngest children, who may be unaware of what stop they need to exit, they’re tasked with duties beyond that of, say, a taxi driver.

This may have led to fewer people wanting to drive school buses, and low staff retention rates.

“This business has always been low paid and precarious and we’ve always dealt with driver shortages, but this [procurement program] has made it worse,” Montgomery said.

“I believe it was avoidable.”

Reporter Amanda Ferguson is investigating the bus delays that have parents and students frustrated and late for both school and work.

See her live updates below or visit this mobile-friendly link.

Over a thousand Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and Toronto Catholic District School Board students were stranded Wednesday afternoon because of issues with school buses, and those delays continued on Thursday.

According to TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird, approximately 60 bus routes did not have drivers on Wednesday. The delays could last until next week, he warned.

Bird said Thursday there were warning signs.

“We started to hear about some issues last week, about possible lower numbers than anticipated, [but they said] they had been working right through Labour Day weekend to find enough drivers,” Bird told 680 NEWS on Thursday.

“That is not the case. They do not have enough drivers.”

It could be until next week before they do.