The student transport authority presents an “evolutionary start”

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The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority expects difficulty in an already difficult year with plans for a “continuous start” of back-to-school bus service while warning of potential driver shortages.

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The yellow buses will begin operating on September 14, more than a week after the staggered start date for high school students, and the planning phase extended throughout the summer – including several curveballs with changes last minute to provincial policies – will mean the “online parent portal” won’t go live until Sept. 7, according to OSTA CEO and CEO Vicky Kyriaco.

“We are really on a tight schedule,” Kyriaco said. Parents must submit their questions in the meantime via online forms and email, with staff available by phone after September 8 to answer questions about the yellow bus service.

“We really need to focus on on-road services so that we can deal with urgent issues,” Kyriaco said. “We make sure we have a plan for each potential scenario, because we know this is a very difficult time for operators and drivers, as well as for parents trying to figure out what transportation will be like.”

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Some routes may be reconfigured, others may be temporary or permanently canceled, Kyriaco said on Monday, while warning of a potential shortage of bus drivers once flu season arrives.

“I have to be honest, there is a potential for a driver shortage – we’ve had driver shortages for the last three or four years,” she said. “We are constantly questioning our operators, they are checking how many drivers they have, and so far it looks like we’re going to be covered.”

Kyriaco said she was “optimistic” they will have enough drivers to cover the routes by September 14.

“By then, we’ll have OC Transpo transportation for students in Grades 7 to 12 for those who qualify,” Kyriaco said, as well as van and wheelchair service.

OSTA is looking at “creative options” and “different ways of providing service,” and Kyriaco said one of those options could include some form of shuttle service.

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“We hope to be able to welcome all the pilots. In the event that there aren’t enough spare parts to cover these additional routes, and especially if drivers do fall ill later in this process – and we know there is the potential for additional health issues with flu season – then we would look at where the drivers are available to do extra work.

“We will consider potentially changing the type of transport to maybe a shuttle service as opposed to routes with stops… maybe these would be grouped stops where one or two buses would go back and forth,” Kyriaco said. “We discussed some creative routing options where we should be able to look at different ways of delivering the service. “

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At the time of its launch for this school year, Kyriaco presented a number of “mitigation strategies” to protect the health and safety of drivers, students and families.

Health and security

OSTA relies on self-testing, and if a student gets sick on the bus, they will be isolated. Drivers arriving at the homes of sick children may refuse to take this student on board.

“Sick children really shouldn’t be in vehicles,” Kyriaco said.

Kindergarten to Grade 3 students are strongly recommended to wear a mask. Masks are mandatory for students in Grades 4 to 12, and recommended but not mandatory for students with special needs.

Allocation of seats

OSTA is counting on removing some parents from bus transportation “to reduce some of these burdens,” Kyriaco said. with 5,500 students already withdrawing, according to the internal OSTA survey.

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. The allocation of places will be made by the schools, at the rate of one pupil per place as far as possible, and grouped together by “family bubble” or by class cohort.

The buses will be cleaned twice a day and the handrails will be disinfected between each race.

Driver safety

Drivers will have access to medical grade masks, goggles and face shields. Drivers with a medical condition may not wear a mask.

“The key is for the driver to wear PPE while the students are charging and unloading, but not allowing the PPE to interfere with driving,” Kyriaco said. “We want to make sure the vision is there while they drive.

Drivers are also asked to complete a self-assessment and are told, “Don’t work sick”.

“Any unsafe behavior by students should be reported to the school for action,” Kyriaco said. “Students not wearing masks, having fun, not staying in their assigned seats – unfortunately transmitting the virus without knowing it – so we really want students to be disciplined, to be taught that following the rules will be really important in creating a healthy bus environment.

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If a driver or student is ill, this will be reported to the school and the school will alert Ottawa Public Health, who will then assess each scenario based on the risk of transmission. SPO will determine any kind of contact tracing needed and advise people on the next steps.

School zone safety

Authorities expect more car and pedestrian traffic around schools coming from different directions than usual, with new parents unfamiliar with usual traffic patterns or unaware of posted signage.

“All of this leads to an increased risk of accidents, injuries or traffic jams,” Kyriaco said, describing several strategies for dealing with the extra traffic.

This may include additional crossing guards, increased Ottawa Police law enforcement around schools, and an Ottawa city bylaw emphasizing no-stop “hot spots” or to park.

OSTA is working with the city on an education campaign, Kyriaco said: “To try to make parents understand the importance of parking far from the school site and walking part of the way, or adopt appropriate and safe driving behavior in school zones.

“It takes a little patience and the back and forth needed as we start to look at these different parameters that will be in play once we actually deliver the service,” Kyriaco said.

Updated information will be posted on the OSTA website at ottawaschoolbus.ca.

[email protected]

Twitter.com/helmera

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