In response to a pressing need, the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA), has appointed Cindy Owens as the interim operations manager. This move comes at a critical time when a dearth of bus drivers has left over 9,000 students in Ottawa without consistent school bus transportation. Coinciding with Owens’s immediate appointment, the Ontario NDP has urged the provincial government to hasten the approval of medical reports for prospective bus drivers, thus alleviating the current driver shortage.
The mandate from OSTA’s board of directors doesn’t come without precedent. Former OSTA director, Vicky Kyriaco, recently took a leave of absence after a tumultuous start to the school year for many Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and Ottawa Catholic School Board families.
A seasoned veteran in education with a robust resume, Ms. Owens steps into the pivotal role with a strategic focus on both short-term and long-term solutions. As a former Superintendent of Human Resources and School Board Principal, her substantive leadership and comprehensive understanding of both public and private sectors provide a foundation from which to navigate the current predicament.
The OSTA further elaborated on their faith in Owens’s capabilities, stating, “Ms. Owens’ extensive involvement with the Ottawa Catholic School Board, coupled with her Master’s degree in Business Administration, uniquely equips her to create and implement effective strategies over the coming months.”
With nine out of ten service agreements already negotiated with local bus companies, the OSTA aims to bridge the gap for those schools still left without adequate transportation. Their multi-pronged strategy includes facilitating the training of new drivers, along with considering the deployment of coach buses as an alternative provision for transportation.
Since the new school year’s commencement on the 5th of September, the OSTA has managed to reinstate 94 school bus runs, symbolizing earnest efforts to remedy the situation.
However, Chandra Pasma, Ottawa West-Nepean MPP, points out that many potential drivers are still waiting for the necessary licensing. She urges the Minister of Transportation to expedite the processing of pending medical reports. Pasma asserts, “There exists a pool of potential bus drivers willing to alleviate the shortfall. Unfortunately, delays in processing medical reports within the Ministry of Transportation are inhibiting license issuance. Some applicants have been waiting for three months.”
The gravity of the situation has thus called for exceptional measures to ease what has been a challenging start to the school year. With an experienced leader at the helm of operations hoping to expedite potential solutions, it is hoped that normality will soon be reinstated across Ottawa’s school transportation services.