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Crisis fuels applications for school bus drivers

My wife and I got home from a Tuesday evening grocery extravaganza to be met in our ridiculously slow condo elevator by a woman wearing a Southland Transportation fleece.

My wife and I got home from a Tuesday evening grocery extravaganza to be met in our ridiculously slow condo elevator by a woman wearing a Southland Transportation fleece.

I recognized the logo and considering my weekly endeavour with Metro, more specifically this column, I naturally engaged her in some small talk.

I made a simple statement about ongoing staffing issues and asked if the current economic collapse might bring in more would-be job seekers.

Her answer was to the point, as she wishfully responded, “Well, we’re hoping.”

A quick call to Southland head office, and a revealing conversation with June Read, the assistant manager in customer service, confirmed that indeed more people were applying due to “circumstantial life events” related to the economic downturn.

Good for Southland, good for Calgary kids.

Southland has been often swarmed in the past by news-hungry journalists bounding to report how horrible the school bus system is in Calgary, but I think the drivers and company responsible for the well-being of our kids in transit deserve a bit more credit.

We always hear stories of kids waiting hours for the bus in -40 C temperatures, or buses not showing up at all, and these issues, rightfully so, are deserving of criticism, but are addressed best as can be, considering supply will never meet demand.

We never hear about the veteran bus driver with 15 to 20 years behind the wheel who has devoted his life to the safety of children simply for the love of his job and the sacrifice of full-time employment.

There isn’t a job that connects you more directly to the community than being a school bus driver, according to Read.

But, offering only part-time work, split shift hours, and Calgary Transit itself who poaches Class 1 drivers away from private busing companies (after those same companies have trained new drivers for free) with the nuances of full-time employment, bubbling benefit plans and pensions, has transport companies like Southland forever scrambling. Read says Southland loses 25 per cent of its staff every year, and it struggles to keep up with a city constantly on the rise.

The school boards have been gracious in their attempts to attain new and retain existing drivers by amending contracts to inflate driver wages specifically, but school bus transportation will forever be a feeder system to municipal transportation services and mired in labels of part-time only.

 
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