Manitoba facing shortage of school bus drivers, thanks in part to pandemic

With students heading back to classes in a few short weeks, one of the many industries that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is scrambling to get ready for the school year.

BJ Langdon, president of Tony’s Team Transport, says there’s a shortage of school bus drivers, which might make the return to normalcy difficult. While it’s not a new issue, Langdon said, it’s one the pandemic has definitely exacerbated.

“We’ve had drivers who have had health complications in their past, and they’ve basically made it clear that it’s a great part-time job, they love doing it, they love the kids — but the problem is they cannot afford to get sick.

“You can’t blame them — even if they’re vaccinated, they still don’t want this disease, obviously.

“So I think, us and other contractors, we’ll lose some employees. (We’ll lose) drivers who are a little bit more aged … and just don’t want to risk it.”

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Langdon said while he’s encouraged by the announcement Tuesday that vaccines will be required for drivers, he’s hoping for more support from the province, although he’s not sure if that help will come before school starts.

“We know the premier is looking at retiring, and I don’t suspect we’re going to see much happen until they appoint a new leader — and I think that’s October — so we’re a little concerned that this might just get swept away,” he said.

“We haven’t heard anything…. We hope we can meet with (the province) and try to get this discussion back on the table quickly.”

Capacity restrictions on buses are also playing a role in the demand for more drivers, he said, as they still haven’t received the final word from government on how many kids will be allowed on each bus. Depending on that decision, bus trips to and from school could take longer for many students.

Read more: COVID-19 — Manitoba brings back mask mandate, requires vaccination for some government employees

Langdon told Global News he hopes recruitment efforts — especially after the vaccine requirement was announced — will help bring some new drivers into the fold to replace those who can’t, or won’t, return.

“We put a huge push on recruitment, we have certified licensed trainers on staff so we can do our own classes if we need to,” he said.

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“It’s certainly a good job and I’d encourage people to take a look at it seriously if they even have three or four hours a day just to get out of the house.”

The province’s announcement Tuesday means a return to mandatory masks in all indoor settings, and that government employees working with vulnerable people (which includes teachers) must be fully vaccinated or face regular testing.

“Vaccines are our protection against the fourth wave, vaccines are our protection against future lockdowns, vaccines are how we get our lives back,” said Premier Brian Pallister.

“Vaccines are our safest and only way out of this pandemic.”

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COVID-19 controlled in Manitoba for now, but cases could skyrocket without intervention: Health officials

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