The West Kootenay Transit Committee has identified staffing as a key issue in their expansion plan.
Chair Rik Logtenberg told Nelson city council Tuesday that the provincial labour shortage has created a barrier in the ability to offer additional transit routes and schedules throughout the region.
Logtenberg said the committee submitted a grant application to the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior’s transit enhancement program, which provides grants to municipal applicants for transportation improvements and expansions.
If approved, Logtenberg says his committee would use some of the funds to provide free driver training programs for recruits who otherwise would have to pay for training themselves before qualifying for the position.
“It costs $3,000 to get your license just to qualify for the role of a bus driver. Right now, that’s a big upfront cost that drivers must pay before they even can effectively apply. ETSI-BC said they’re interested in supporting the idea and it may be able to turn the staffing issue around.”
He said the issue affects both city and rural transit systems and urged the City of Nelson to consider endorsing a similar grant application to ETSI-BC for funds to promote employment for city bus drivers before applications close in October.
Because the bus driver shortage has affected more than just public transit, Logtenberg says there’s a sense of competition in recruitment between the different transit systems in the community.
School District 8 (Kootenay Lake) is also scrambling for school bus drivers, and Logtenberg says the demand has made it challenging to fill the roles.
“A funny anecdote that shows how difficult it is to get drivers right now is how the city went out and put up a sign saying ‘we’re looking for drivers’ and the next day, SD8 put up a much bigger sign saying they’re looking for drivers. It’s a competition right now for drivers and we have to figure this out.”
The shortage of drivers is something the community is unaware of, stated Logtenberg, which gives him hope that community engagement could be an effective tool to bring awareness in the community and urge more to apply.
“I have some hope because it seems like this issue caught everybody by surprise. They felt like if we can just offer more money, then we’ll get the drivers, but no. We need to be more proactive and identify barriers for anybody thinking of potentially stepping into this new career.”
City manager Kevin Cormack asked Daynika White, manager of government relations with BC Transit, if they could help promote recruitment strategies to help with the driver shortage
White said it’s the responsibility of the operating company to handle recruitment and resolve the issues contributing to the shortage. She instead offered to provide a link to job postings on the BC Transit website.