In spite of spending more than $1 billion per year on student transportation, Ontario is unable to provide reliable student transportation. School bus driver shortages are being reported across the province. In Ottawa alone, 2,000 students are unable to get a reliable ride to school due to a shortage of 80 school bus drivers.
It appears that Ontario is not alone in this. Similar shortages exist across the country because of a combination of a) historically low wages, b) a high level of responsibility, c) split shifts, and d) a contract bidding system that always favours the lowest bid. This shortage was exacerbated by the pandemic. School bus drivers, many of whom are elderly, may have left the workforce due to fears of contracting COVID-19.
Three provinces hit hard by school bus driver shortages — Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario — have a unique opportunity to significantly reduce transportation requirements. Each has a Catholic and a public school system. Simply eliminating this duplication could lead to significant reductions in school transportation costs and driver shortages.
It has proven challenging (impossible?) to find a government report on the transportation costs associated with two separate school boards. However, obvious savings would come if all of the children in a neighbourhood are transported to the same school. Indeed, a 2012 discussion paper published by the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods estimated that merging the two school systems would save $169 million per year.
By eliminating unnecessary transportation and duplication of routes by merging the two school boards, these provinces would be in a position to reduce the number of drivers who are needed, while increasing the compensation package for the remaining drivers, recognizing their right to a living wage, as well as acknowledging the responsibility and risks they carry in transporting children to school.
Transportation is not the only reason to merge school boards, but it is certainly a significant one.