A shortage of bus drivers is making things difficult for schools in Ottawa, and the minimum wage increase coming next year may only speed up the problem.
Vicky Kyriaco, general manager and chief administrative officer of the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA), said there is currently about a 37-driver shortage for approximately 700 school bus routes that need covered every day, forcing them to make due with double shifts or part-time drivers.
"Right now it's manageable. We do have enough spare drivers to actually deliver the service," she said. "It's not ideal for us. We would rather have permanent drivers on routes."
School bus drivers in Ottawa currently make about $14 to $15 an hour on average, several dollars above the minimum wage of $11.50 an hour. That rate of pay had made the job of bus driver more appealing, but Kyriaco has concerns the minimum wage hike on Jan. 1 to $14 an hour, and then $15 an hour in 2019, will make the job less appealing, since people may be able to find jobs other job with equal pay and better hours.
"It's such an important job. You have to have patience to deal with children, traffic and all the challenges dealing with driving in Ottawa roadways ... it takes a special kind of person who can handle that kind of pressure,” she said. “Bus drivers aren't really going to want to be paid minimum wage because it's not really a minimum wage type job. The expectation is their rate of pay is going to jump up proportionally as well."
Companies will face either an increase to the pay rate of bus drivers or keeping the pay rate where it is and risk an even greater difficulty finding drivers.
"It puts pressure on the operators who have contractual rate agreements with OSTA and the school boards and there's no additional funding that can cover those jumps in rates," she said.
This article originally appeared in Metro News.