A new vision for Student Transportation in Ontario
Since 2014, Unifor has engaged in an on-going campaign to highlight the poor working conditions faced by school bus drivers in Ontario. The lack of fairness, decent wages and benefits, and job security faced by drivers are all factors that have contributed to the school bus shortage crisis we are seeing today. This has only intensified when the province moved to a competitive bidding process to secure private company operators to provide school bus transportation services.
In December of 2017, the Ontario Ministry of Education announced a review of student transportation services in the province. The review is based on a discussion paper that was released entitled A New Vision for Student Transportation in Ontario. The paper outlines the following key areas the Province is looking to receive feedback on:
- Responsiveness to student transportation needs
- Equity in transportations services
- Transportation safety and well-being of students
- Accountability in transportation service delivery
Unifor is currently preparing their submission to this review and will be meeting with the two consultation leads to discuss our issues and our recommendations. We are calling on all Unifor members and parents using school bus services to share their experiences on how school bus transportation shortages and delays have impacted their families, and to show their support for our recommendations.
Responses can be made in writing and submitted by March 28, 2018, by email, to ST.firstname.lastname@example.org (include: Student Transportation Consultation in the subject line of your email).
Unifor Key Recommendations:
1. Establish a School Bus Industry Council to meet and regularly review issues facing the school bus transportation industry and develop collaborative policy solutions.
We recommend that a formal industry working group be established, consisting of key student transportation stakeholders (i.e. government officials, education staff, school bus operators, industry associations, and labour unions) that meet regularly to review issues facing the industry, so that all groups can work collaboratively to develop a fair and sustainable transportation system.
Issues this group can discuss can include: reviewing how the school bus transportation funding formula is developed; establishing common work standards and practices; recruitment and training; establish a fair wage base for drivers; conduct a yearly evaluation of student transportation policies; and identify common challenges and best practices.
2. Increase funding to the Student Transportation Grant and review the transportation funding formula.
Overall provincial funds to support student transportation have been declining over a ten-year period. In addition, the Ontario Auditor-General has flagged how the current funding formula is not based on student need, but rather on each school board’s 1997 spending level with adjustments calculated based on a limited number of factors, such as: fuel cost, student enrollment figures, and cost-update adjustments. This is an outdated model that requires a substantial revision.
Unifor recommends that the Ministry of Education boost funding to the yearly Student Transportation Grant and that the funding formula be carefully reviewed and updated as per the Auditor-General’s recommendations.
3. Implement a Fair Wage Policy for School Bus Drivers.
The highly competitive nature of school bus route bidding requires operators to find ways to reduce costs. Driver wages are the first area in which many companies look to make cuts. In order to recruit and retain experienced and qualified drivers, wages must be increased to reflect the many critical roles and responsibilities that drivers take on during the course of the job. Wages must also be protected from the downward pressures that are inherent in the competitive bidding process.
Unifor recommend the Ontario government institute a Fair Wage Policy that creates a fair base wage for drivers. This wage would be reviewed on an annual basis and adjusted for inflation, to make certain that wages do not fall below a minimum threshold. The Ontario government has already adopted a similar wage enhancement program for other professional workers that have experienced chronically low-wages, such as Personal Support Workers (PSWs) and Early Childhood Educators (ECEs)
4. Ministry of Education must work with Federal counterparts to ensure access to Employment Insurance benefits for school bus drivers.
Many school bus drivers depend on the income received from their work to make ends meet, and as such, the loss of this income during the summer months when schools are shut down places drivers in a precarious financial situation. Despite making regular contributions to the Employment Insurance (E.I.) program, drivers find they are largely ineligible to receive benefits due to not accumulating the necessary hours to qualify for benefits.
Unifor recommends that the Ontario Government work with the Federal Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development to review eligibility criteria to ensure that special provisions are made in order to facilitate access to benefits for school bus drivers during school closures. We believe this would create a strong incentive for drivers to remain at their jobs and reduce driver turnover.
5. Improve accountability and transparency surrounding school transportation contracts – especially at the school board and consortia levels.
Access to information on contracts awarded by consortia to private operators continues to pose a barrier for stakeholders seeking accurate information as to how public dollars are being allocated towards student transportation. Even on many of student transportation consortia websites there is often little (if at all) detailed information on how transportation dollars are being allocated. We find the high level of secrecy surrounding these contracts and how public money is being used very disconcerting
Accountability and transparency has been an ongoing problem. In 2008 the Ontario government introduced a $10million school bus driver wage enhancement fund that was intended to help boost driver wages. However, drivers did not receive any increase to their wages and, to this day, the province is unable to account of the whereabouts of this $10 million dollars despite numerous inquiries.
Unifor recommends the Ministry instruct both school boards and consortia to increase transparency of school transportation funding and school bus operator contracts to the public.
6. The application of any technology for use in school buses should be thoroughly reviewed and consulted with key stakeholders, including labour, before implementation. Further, the use of any ride-sharing apps or driverless technology for student transportation should be strictly prohibited.
Unifor strongly oppose the use of technology that would displace trained and qualified bus drivers in favour of any ride-sharing type service, such as Uber or Lyft or the use of driverless technology. Driving children to school must be performed by fully-trained and licenced professionals who must also undergo mandatory vulnerable sector background checks, training in CPR and First Aid practices, as well as how to perform regular vehicle inspections to ensure the safety for both students and drivers. Companies such as Uber or Lyft do not provide requirements on any of these areas, placing students at unnecessary risk of harm.
The Ontario government is rolling out a new bidding system for school bus contracts in Ontario that is causing havoc among bus drivers. This new Request for Proposals (RFP) system has forced large operators to give up routes, driven small, independent operators out of business and left dedicated drivers heading into summer wondering if they can return to their buses and their students in the fall.
This new bidding system led to chaos at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, when thousands of students in both the public and Catholic school boards in Toronto were left stranded because there weren't enough drivers for all the routes. Shortages and problems were reported across the province.
Even when there is a driver, too many students get on the bus in September hoping to find the driver they had got to know and trust the previous year, only to find a stranger.
Unifor is the largest union in the school bus industry and has led efforts to address the RFP issue, including an in-depth report, Steering Clear: Avoiding the RFP Trap, and meeting regularly with industry and Ontario government officials.
Bus maintenance and repair work is being neglected as operators strive to keep costs down. A wave of job losses is sweeping across the province, having already affected hundreds of union and non-union workers in the past two years alone.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Bus drivers are dedicated to their work, but find themselves the fodder in a bidding system that drives down wages and puts their jobs at risk. School bus drivers are already the lowest paid transit workers in Ontario – even though they are responsible for carrying our children, our most precious cargo.
Drivers do this work for the love of the kids, and not just for the money. But that doesn’t justify the added pain this RFP system is putting them through.
Unifor is concerned about the lasting impacts this system is having on both school bus drivers and children:
- SAFETY: Contract bidding will force operators to compete on lowering costs, further delaying much needed bus maintenance work (including proper bus sanitization) and repair – putting the health and safety ofour kids at risk;
- WORK STANDARDS: As competition increases, operators will be forced to squeeze labour costs. That means persistently low wages and more unpaid work time for drivers;
- LABOUR RIGHTS: If unionized workers lose their jobs, gaps in federal and provincial labour law means they also lose their collective agreement if re-hired by a new firm.
How you can help
Sign the Petition
Send a message to the Ontario government to let them know you are concerned about the impact the RFP is having on school buses in this province by signing the online petition. Just click here. There’s even a spot where you can add your own comments, if you wish.
Talk to your local MPP
Contact your local Member of Provincial Parliament and let him or her know your concerns. Find your local MPP here.
Join the mailing list
Email Unifor Local 4268 President Deb Montgomery to join the campaign mailing list. You’ll receive regular updates and information: email@example.com
Show your support at work and home
One great way to show your support for school bus drivers at home or at work is to make Unifor's own foldable school bus, like the one shown here. Just download the pattern here, follow the instructions included on the pattern, and make your own Steering Clear school bus.
See also the Ask the Candidates form: