As the academic year commences for the majority of students in Edmonton and throughout Alberta, bus companies remain beleaguered by a persistent shortage of drivers, despite the province’s incentive schemes.
Confronting the driver deficit, the Alberta government eradicated compulsory entry-level training, commonly known as MELT, specifically for school bus drivers. Laura Doroshenko of Cunningham Transportation acknowledges that while this decision did provide some relief, it fell short of curtailing the extensive driver training regimen.
Undergo training may take anywhere from five to six weeks. “Many quit halfway because they find alternative employment as they need regular income,” stated Doroshenko.
The enduring responsibility and financial burden on bus companies to train drivers has led the industry’s provincial spokesperson, Mark Critch, to express no surprise at the initiative’s lack of success.
Critch, president of the Alberta School Bus Contractors’ Association, asserted, “We had clear foresight that the regulation wouldn’t make a sizable difference.” He also brought attention to a governmental funding incentive of $1,200 for drivers who complete their training wasn’t sufficiently publicised to stimulate a surge in applicants.
“This information only reached school districts in late July, providing inadequate time for bus operators or districts to sufficiently advertise and attract potential drivers,” he added.
The provincial Minister of Education disclosed that despite efforts to consolidate the system and allocate extra funds, the outcome hasn’t been as fruitful as anticipated. “There are persisting issues with recruiting,” Demetrios Nicolaides told CTV News Edmonton. “These challenges are not exclusive to Alberta or the realm of bus drivers. We see similar tensions in other provinces.”
Critical to the issue, Doroshenko claims that the wages offered to school bus drivers remain uncompetitive, often driving them towards better paying jobs. “We often lose drivers to Amazon and transit – they conclude their training and licensing procedures just to find employment elsewhere,” Doroshenko explained, highlighting that transit drivers begin with a wage of $36 per hour, considerably more than her company offers at $23-25 per hour.
Critch concurs that the wage concern is substantial and suggests the province consider emulating a successful bonus program from Ontario. “In Ontario, drivers receive $1,000 upon finishing Semester 1, and an additional $1,000 for completing Semester 2,” stated Critch. The rewards sum up to $2,000, a substantial addition to the small income earned from this part-time job. Critch anticipates discussing the matter with the education minister later this month.