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More bus route cancellations and delays possible without additional spare drivers

Eleven Westlock and Barrhead-area routes cancelled Jan. 13 due to the cold
Pembina Hills Schoolbus
With the yearly cold snap we all call winter upon us, the Pembina Hills School Division is reminding parents that busses will not run when the temperatures dips to -40C. Schools however remain open. Kevin Berger/BL

The Pembina Hills School Division is in “critical need” of new spare bus drivers to cover absences by regular drivers throughout the jurisdiction.

“Without enough spare drivers to support regular bus routes, the possibility of route cancellations is a daily occurrence,” said Elaine Latawiec, who recently stepped into the role of transportation services co-ordinator for Pembina Hills.

While Pembina Hills is doing relatively well in terms of having enough regular bus drivers, the division has been dealing with a lack of spare drivers who can cover absences since before Christmas.

Latawiec stated in an e-mail that several hours are spent each week trying to ensure routes are covered.

“Sometimes spares have to be re-assigned to a different route, mechanics are pulled out of our shops to drive and field trips are in danger of being cancelled to ensure children get home each day,” she said.

“Every time we can’t find a spare driver, it’s like a domino negatively impacting other activities and operations.”

Even if a route isn’t cancelled, having a spare driver moved to a route they’re unfamiliar with on short notice can result in delays to pick-up and drop-off times, she indicated.

“We owe a great debt of gratitude to all our drivers who get our students safely to school each and every day,” Latawiec added.

Anyone interested in becoming a regular or spare bus driver must submit an application to the division’s transportation office. You can get more information about submitting an application by calling 780-674-8510.

If an applicant passes the necessary background checks, they will have to go through training that will be dependent on what type of driver’s licence they have.

For instance, drivers with a Class 1 or 2 Licence will be required to complete ‘S’ endorsement training, while drivers with Class 3, 4 or 5 licences must complete the new Mandatory Entry Level Training (MELT) program.

Pembina Hills does have a certified school bus driver trainer on staff, so training can be taking through the transportation office in Barrhead.

“Training includes hours in the classroom, on the road, observation and in the bus yard,” said Latawiec.

As well, anyone with a Class 2-5 licence must access training elsewhere to complete a Q endorsement (air brakes) unless they already have it.

Regardless of what training they have, all drivers must complete a mentor program with a qualified Pembina Hills driver prior to commencing their first drive.

Buses parked

Monday, Jan. 13, saw some of the first individual cancellations and delays of the new year as 11 busses were cancelled and four others were delayed across the division.

Barrhead saw three delays while Neerlandia had three cancellations of its own. Busby, Clyde and Swan Hills each had one cancellation. Three busses heading to Dapp were also cancelled and one was delayed, while two busses headed to Westlock were cancelled as well.

Pembina Hills reminds everyone that bus service across the division will be cancelled when the temperature drops to -40C at the start of a route.

Administrative Procedure 70-101, which deals with emergency school closures, was updated this fall to state that transportation services will be automatically cancelled if temperatures fall to -40C or below. Wind chill is not taken into account.

The transportation department makes the decision before 6 a.m. every school day and may also order a division-wide cancellation of bussing in cases of extreme inclement weather, i.e. a massive blizzard sweeping through the entire division.

Otherwise, it will still be up to individual bus drivers to decide whether or not to keep their buses running in poor weather. Information on bus route cancellations is provided via the Pembina Hills website and on each school’s individual websites.

The schools themselves remain open regardless of weather and if busses are running.

Even if buses are running, parents may always make the decision to keep their children home.

With files from Chris Zwick