A shortage of bus drivers is forcing the modification or cancellation of some bus runs and causing headaches for parents as New Brunswick students return to school.
Some students in the Francophone Northwest district were not able to take the bus to get to school on Wednesday morning. In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the district explained that it was facing a shortage of substitute drivers.
It's an issue across the province, according to people who work in the sector.
The superintendent of the Francophone South district, Monique Boudreau, is dealing with a similar situation.
"This morning in Fredericton we had a bus that was late because we didn't have a substitute," Boudreau said on Wednesday.
"We had to ask one of our other permanent drivers to add a run."
Parents complained about the lack of service, she said.
"This year, it's quite worrisome," said Boudreau. "If we can't do this kind of juggling, we'll have to cancel runs."
If that happens, she said, the district will make sure that students who can't get to school are not penalized.
In her district, the lack of supply bus drivers is especially affecting the Fredericton and Moncton areas.
"We want to deliver the services," she said. "We want the students to be in school. We want them to be able to arrive on time. And we don't want too many delays.
"We also understand that it is very inconvenient for the parents, and we appreciate their collaboration so much."
Gérald Landry, who has been driving a bus for 38 years, said there's been a provincewide retention problem for some time now.
"We've been looking for bus drivers for years," he said. "We really need people."
Several factors make it tough to recruit substitute drivers. For example, Landry said, you never know how many hours of work you'll have and the nature of the work is difficult at times.
"When you're a substitute, you can go long periods without working," he said. "Not everyone can afford to do that."
Both Landry and Boudreau agree you have to love children to do this kind of work.
It's also a big responsibility.
"To drive school buses, you have to be present – mentally there," Landry said. "It's important. It's children's lives."
Landry thinks that after taking the bus driver course, some people realize it's not for them and opt out. Others are on extended sick leaves, he said.
Several employees are retiring as well, which is adding to the shortage, said Boudreau.
Others are currently in training and waiting for their chance to drive.
Boudreau said the hiring process takes longer for bus drivers than for other types of substitutes because they undergo fairly intensive training, specifically on safety issues.
Training took place in August this year, said Landry, and it can take up to a month for new drivers to get their licence.
The Francophone Northeast District said it has enough drivers to maintain all of its routes.
The Anglophone East district said it is always looking for substitute bus drivers and would like to have more, but so far this year it has been able to fill absences.
The Anglophone North district reported a similar situation, noting that while its needs can change from week to week and region to region, all positions are currently being covered and there has been no disruption to bus routes.
The Anglophone West district, meanwhile, confirmed that it has a shortage of casual or substitute bus drivers.