Lack of bus drivers leads to indefinite suspension of school bus route in Yellowknife

N.J. Macpherson School in Yellowknife is one of four schools affected by the recent cancellation of a school bus route. ( Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)
N.J. Macpherson School in Yellowknife is one of four schools affected by the recent cancellation of a school bus route. ( Liny Lamberink/CBC - image credit)

The superintendent of one of Yellowknife's school districts says he's concerned about a shortage of bus drivers that's led to the indefinite cancellation of a school bus route.

Parents learned last week that a route serving four of the city's schools, spanning all three school districts, had been suspended because it no longer has a driver. Bus 10 takes students to École William McDonald, École St. Joseph, École Allain St-Cyr and N.J. Macpherson School.

Jameel Aziz, the superintendent for Yellowknife Education District No. 1, said his district plans to meet with First Transit, its contractor for school bus services, to brainstorm solutions. For now, though, it's on parents to figure out how to get their kids to and from school.

"For high school-aged kids, they can take public transit — but I would say that would be for students of a certain age. We certainly wouldn't want primary-age students or elementary students having to do that," Aziz noted when asked about options for students.

"We don't have a whole lot of options, honestly, right now, and I know parents are very frustrated. I know it really puts a crimp in their work day, having to make other arrangements or perhaps having to transport their children themselves."

First Transit notified the school districts by email on Dec. 27, and tweeted about the cancellation on Dec. 30. It attributed the issue to "staff turnover" and said there wasn't enough space on other buses to fit in the students affected by the cancellation.

Aziz said parents who paid for Bus 10's service would be receiving partial refunds.

While superintendents for Yellowknife Catholic Schools and the Francophone education district were not available for interviews, Aziz said this isn't the first time staffing shortages have taken down bus routes. They had some delays and service suspensions in November and December that sometimes lasted for weeks at a time.

"As much as [First Transit] has been working very hard to try to replace some drivers, it's an absolute challenge," Aziz said.

"What we're seeing is probably what many businesses are seeing in the post-COVID world: it is very, very hard to attract employees, and very, very hard to retain employees. And I'm going to say that the bus service is no different."

He said the school district would let parents know as soon as it has more information. First Transit also said it would provide updates as the situation changes.