Offering supply chain solutions: school bus drivers required!

MichelleBrady    October 24, 2016

The 2016-2017 school year began with a wealth of negative media coverage about school bus providers in the GTA. Children were repeatedly late for school when buses ran behind schedule, and in some cases children were stranded without transportation altogether. Indeed, we are still experiencing these issues (but much less frequently) on our school bus route, 8 weeks later. I’ve lost count of the number of temporary drivers who have covered our bus route (until the bus company fills the role with a permanent driver). Because of this, I’ve decided to take a closer look at supply chain opportunities in the school bus industry. I suspect social media can offer viable solutions to some of the issues we’re seeing.

First Student Inc. is the largest school transportation provider in North America. First Student completes six million student journeys each day, moving more passengers than all U.S. airlines combined. With a team of highly-trained drivers and the industry’s strongest safety record, First Student delivers reliable, quality services including full-service transportation and management, special-needs transportation, route optimization and scheduling, and charter services for 1,300 school district contracts.1

“In a safety sensitive industry, delivery of secure and on-time student transportation is the responsibility of several key stakeholders working cohesively together – government, school boards/transportation consortia and school bus service providers.” 2 As a parent of school-bused children I’m concerned with a few things:

  • safety of children on the school bus
  • children being late for school or late getting home because of bus delays
  • children being dropped off at incorrect locations
  • little or late communication about delays
  • different bus drivers, unfamiliar with routes and children

And, funding provided by school boards each year to the contracted bus companies is allocated with the expectation that all services will be met. Concerns of the bus companies include:

  • Not enough bus drivers to service routes
  • Inadequate funding available from school boards, costs exceed funds
  • Cost of buses and repairs have increased
  • Many school bus operators are only equipped to participate in their local area. If they are unsuccessful in a tender process, their assets may well be stranded. 3

The shortage of bus drivers is not a new problem. I found an article10 from 8 years ago outlining the same supply chain issue. Can social media be used to fix this problem rather than simply publicize it? Recruitment efforts should be able to reach a larger group of people through social media, rather than traditional TV or newspaper advertisements. Most driver positions are split shifts morning and afternoon. Would it help if drivers were offered the option of working either morning or afternoon, so they could have additional employment options elsewhere? Clearly changes need to be made to attract more drivers.

Imagine an online system that helps bus drivers collect pre-trip inspection data and alerts maintenance staff when repairs are required. This already exists (EVIR – Enhanced Vehicle Inspection and Reporting) and it’s being used in some school districts in the US. What about a highly sophisticated tracking system for students riding the bus? As children go on or off the bus their personal ID card is scanned so they are accounted for and delivered to the correct location. Much like systems that courier companies use. Cameras on the bus record student activity and student incident (behavioral) reports can be captured and provided to the school. The exact location of each school bus can be seen on a mobile map app so that dispatch, schools and parents know timing. Watch this online video to see how First Student is using these technologies4 in some US school districts. These are all ways that transparency and sharing information within the supply chain can help an organization and it’s customers. Ideally we could implement these technologies and share networked information in Ontario to improve the school bus supply chain, but who is going to pay for this when costs already exceed funding? The greater challenge we still face in this supply chain is simply with not having enough drivers for all of the required school bus routes.

Amalgamated Transit Union Canada boss Paul Thorp insisted school bus drivers are “undervalued” and argued that’s a reason for the current situation. “The people that are hired to transport our most precious cargo are vastly undervalued for the great job that they do every day,” said Thorp. “School bus drivers are not paid by the hour. They are paid by the route. If the driver runs late or is required to continue past their scheduled finished time, they are not financially compensated.” 5


According to a Student Transportation Competitive Procurement Review Report (which investigated the nature/fairness of the RFP bidding process for School Bus contracts in Ontario), there is a problem with hiring and keeping school bus drivers. Two recommendations in this report are offered; paying drivers more and offering incentives.

Many if not most operators face driver shortages and struggle with driver retention. This raises their costs (repeated training, hiring bonuses) and also translates to service problems for consortia – typically in the form of absences and delays. Low wages (in the $12 per hour range – not far above the Ontario minimum wage) are reported to be the main cause. However, drivers also relate that they are often not compensated for work or time that, in theory, is covered by consortia base rates6.

The report then identifies that the Ontario competitive school bus contract bidding process itself has actually caused pressure to keep variable costs (wages) low. After all, funding is fixed, regardless of actual costs7. “Recruitment and keeping bus drivers is an ongoing challenge for every bus company,” said Cathy Abraham of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. “It doesn’t pay well, and shifts are split. It’s tough to keep people wanting to work there”.8

Lessons for Others

Although it’s easier to offer supply chain solutions when transparency is given, this has not been the case according to the OSBA as discrepancies with funding increases have not been accounted for.9 Unfortunately I was not able to obtain a comment from First Student at the time this article was written. Supply chain improvements and technologies to implement are costly. Ideally, many could be improved through social networking, especially if operational costs are minimized. School bus contracts are awarded based on price in a competitive market, and allocated funds are set, regardless of actual costs incurred. Simply put, the ongoing challenge with Ontario’s school bus industry supply chain is a bus driver shortage. School bus drivers in Ontario should be paid more. This would start to remedy the shortage and retention issues being faced. I will continue to thank our bus drivers for already working harder, and for less than we can ever pay them for.

Organization: First Student Canada
Industry: School bus services and public transit systems
Name of Organization Contact: see references

Authored by: MichelleBrady

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


  1. First Student Inc. (Jul 19, 2016) Re: posting: First Student Hiring 5,000 in Preparation for School Year [company website] retrieved from
  2. Ontario School Bus Association, (Oct 6, 2016) Re: SCHOOL BUS DRIVER SHORTAGE – SYSTEMIC PROBLEM DUE TO HISTORIC ISSUES [News Release] retrieved on Oct 24, 2016 from
  3. The Hon. Colin L. Campbell, Q.C., Paul Emanuelli, Leo Gotlieb (released January 28, 2016) Re: STUDENT TRANSPORTATION COMPETITIVE PROCUREMENT REVIEW REPORT (page 6) retrieved on Oct 24, 2016 from
  4. First Student Inc. (2016) Re: technologies from First Student [website]
  5. Davidson, Terry. (Sept 9, 2016) Re: Ombudsman eyes school bus driver shortage. [Toronto Sun]. Retrieved on Oct 24, 2016 from
  6. The Hon. Colin L. Campbell, Q.C., Paul Emanuelli, Leo Gotlieb (released January 28, 2016) Re: STUDENT TRANSPORTATION COMPETITIVE PROCUREMENT REVIEW REPORT (page 23) retrieved on Oct 24, 2016 from
  7. Ontario School Bus Association (OSBA) October 6, 2016 [press release]
  8. Rushowy, Kristin., (Sept 12, 2016). Re: Halton Boards also report school bus woes [The] Retrieved on Oct 24, 2016 from
  9. Ontario School Bus Association, (Oct 6, 2016) Re: SCHOOL BUS DRIVER SHORTAGE – SYSTEMIC PROBLEM DUE TO HISTORIC ISSUES [News Release] retrieved on Oct 24 from
  10. Burlington Post, (Mar 07, 2008) Re: Region’s school bus driver shortage getting worse [article]

First Student Inc. (May 20, 2013). Re: How First Student Focuses on Safe Transport of Children. [Video file]. Retrieved on Oct 24, 2016 from