From: Concerned Bus Driver and Mother
To: Whom It May Concern
I am a school bus driver in the Ottawa area. I have been driving the school bus for 4 years. I love the job, working with children, and the flexibility the schedule gives me. It allows me to be here for my children when they are home from school, and with the rising cost of daycare it was an affordable solution for our family.
Before becoming a school bus driver, my own children took the bus. Our driver always seemed to be in a rush, barely giving children time to sit down, before speeding off to the next stop. He was always late, and in a rush, and sometimes didn’t show up at all. As a parent, it was easy to sit back and judge and complain about our rotten driver. But the reality of the situation, that I can understand now, is that, that poor driver had no choice. He was set up to fail from the start, there was and still is not enough drivers to fill all of the routes. You see, this shortage of drivers that we are experiencing now, isn’t a new thing. It’s been going on for many years. And unless something changes it will continue. Here is my story:
My first experience with a school bus company wasn’t pleasant. There was no interview, I simply called the company and they took some basic information, had me fill out a security clearance form and told me when training was. No questions were asked about my personality, experiences, or how I would work with the children. This is an issue; we need to make sure the people driving our children to school are the right people. Anyone with a heartbeat can become a school bus driver, if they have a clear driver’s record and security clearance.
I was trained by an older gentleman who was not up to speed on modern etiquette of how to treat a person of the opposite sex. I did not feel comfortable around that man and the inappropriate comments had me dreading every new day of training. I was new to the industry and thought this was the way it was and did not say anything to anyone about it. I know now that this was my mistake, but I imagine other young women had the same experience with this trainer, as well as others. I didn’t want to make a fuss and have people treating me different if I complained about him.
Once September rolled around I was given my own route, no trainer came with me on the first day. I was so nervous, and had no idea if I was doing everything right, but these were the cards I was dealt by the company, so I made the best of it. They didn’t have enough trainers to go on the first day, with all of the new drivers that they had trained. That first week of driving was a shock to me; mostly due to the unprofessional manner the company treated their employees. Daily drivers were being yelled at and belittled by the dispatch team. It wasn’t uncommon to hear explosive arguments over the radio. And I had to keep my radio on, in case they called my name. It was nerve wracking to say the least, and all those little ears on the bus heard everything. Many drivers quit after the first few weeks, they felt disrespected by the company, parents, other drivers on the road and it was too much responsibility for too little pay.
In 2016 bus drivers were only paid $16.56 per hour by this company. No benefits, no paid time off, no sick days. I was paid for 3.75 hours per day, which did not cover the time it took to fuel the bus, complete the paperwork required, sweep/clean the bus, or to get to my first stop. I was supplied with paper towel and a broom. No cleaning solution to clean up any messes and kids can be very messy! So, I bought and used my own supplies to keep the bus tidy. Any extra cleaning that needed to be done was done on my own time. If there was a problem with the bus that needed to be fixed, I would have to wait, and that time was also not paid. In winter, we were required to show up early to get our busses warmed up and cleaned off, also unpaid. I was essentially volunteering around 1-2 hours of my time daily. We were paid for Stat holidays, PD Days and Snow Days (up to 5 per year). We had quarterly safety meetings which we were paid minimum wage for, as well as the initial start up meeting. I don’t understand how they can justify paying us less for these things? Christmas break, March break and summer are all unpaid. Most drivers apply for EI during those times, after they build up enough hours.
If you asked for a day off for appointments or if you got sick and had to take a day off, you were chastised and made to feel guilty. They would tell you that they have no one to cover your shift and question your symptoms. Drivers would drive the bus miserable and sick, for fear of being fired, and didn’t want to let the kids down. When my own children were sick, I had to take them with me on the bus. I felt like the worst mother, after all I took this job to be with them! But staying home with them wasn’t an option; I was too afraid of being yelled at and belittled to ask for a day off. I needed the job.
I stayed with the company until June; because I felt I owed it to the kids I was driving, not because I respected the company. It is easy to get attached to the students; they all steal a piece of my heart, which is a big part of why I love this job. I left this company in June and joined another company the following September, hoping maybe this new company would be better.
I was excited for a fresh start and they offered a bit more in terms of pay, a bump up to $17.00 per hour. My pay has increased a $1.00 per year since then. We now make $19.00 per hour. Still no benefits, paid days off or sick leave. They also pay minimum wage for the start up meeting, and safety meetings. They don’t pay for PD days like the last company, but make it up in the increase in hourly wage. Like the first company, they pay for stat holidays, but not Christmas break, March break, or Summer Break. They also, only pay for Good Friday, even though school is closed for Easter Monday, they do not pay you for that day. If you didn’t take any days off during the month, you would receive a $25.00 gift card per each month of work, except for December, as a Perfect Attendance Award. Since COVID-19 hit, the Perfect Attendance has been taken away, because they can no longer force people to work while sick. I like it that their daily shift minimum is 4 hours, rather than 3.75 like the last company. Even still, I am working more hours than I am paid. Typically bus companies do not pay their drivers the time required for fueling the bus. They say it is part of your 15 minutes you get to pre-trip the bus, but 15 minutes is not enough to do all that you are required to do, plus fill the bus with diesel.
This company also provides paper towel and a broom to clean the bus and, a cleaning kit to deal with vomit if a child is sick on the bus. No sanitizer. I continued to use my own cleaning supplies to wipe up any other spills or messes. After the first few months of driving for this new company, I could see some of the same issues I experienced with the last company coming to light. They don’t yell as much on the radio, but rather request a meeting so they could do it in person or over the phone. If you are sick they also make you feel bad for asking to stay home, often asking if you could come in the afternoon, after taking the morning off – citing they don’t have anyone to cover your run. I have been belittled a few times by one particular office staff member. I brought my concerns to the manager but nothing changed.
I ran into a co-worker who quit the company, she said she was so sick with a stomach bug that she asked for the day off, to which the head boss told her to wear a “Depends” and come to work! She quit on the spot! I was astonished to hear her story but I am not surprised. Another co-worker was asked to work as well, even though she told them she had severe diarrhea, they still insisted she work. I can’t imagine working while being that sick. These two stories are just two of many, which I have heard over the years. On top of dealing with poor treatment from companies, drivers have to deal with other drivers on the road, who do not follow the rules and parents who can be very unreasonable and disrespectful.
I have been with this company since 2017 and this is the first year (2020) that we have been provided proper cleaning supplies to clean the bus. It should be noted that typically, busses are only thoroughly cleaned once per year, during the summer. During the school year, the bus is typically only swept. The only time busses are wiped down during the school year is if the driver decides they want to do it on their own time. And they are not paid for that. Prior to COVID times, busses have been cesspools of germs because no one is paid to clean the bus.
During COVID times, drivers are still faced with these same conditions, and are not being adequately paid for the extra duties required to keep the bus safe for students and themselves. My company is only paying .25 of an hour daily for the extra cleaning. This is not enough time to do a good job. We are being provided with 2 cloth masks, a face shield, gloves, cleaner, paper towel and 5 cloths (one per each day) to wipe down the seats. The same cloth is used all day long! A lot of drivers are over 50 and some have physical disabilities – they cannot do all of the bending and wiping required to keep the bus sanitary. There is no plexiglass shield between the driver and students, which other provinces and even city busses have installed for driver safety. Drivers just do not feel safe and supported right now.
Thank you for caring enough to read this far, I know it’s a long winded read. But I felt if I explain my story you would have an understanding of what school bus drivers are dealing with. This problem of a severe driver shortage has existed long before COVID-19 and it will continue on, unless someone speaks up for us drivers and demands change. The reason there is a driver shortage is because of the poor working conditions that bus drivers are faced with, especially during COVID-19, and unreasonable payment for the work required. If the government, parents, and schools want the drivers to come back we need to reform the School Bus industry and the following changes should be made:
- Better working conditions, respect and treatment
- Appropriate pay that covers all hours worked. Same pay for all work, meetings should not be at a reduced rate.
- Paid vacation and sick time
- A Plexiglass barrier
- Mandatory masks for all students, including those from KG-Grade 3
- Professional cleaners to clean the bus daily
If these things were implemented, you would not have as much trouble recruiting and maintaining drivers. More Moms, Dads, young people and old would be signing up to drive.
Thank you for your time and attention. I hope my memo brings forth awareness to our ongoing issues and inspires you to make some changes.
A concerned Mom and Bus Driver