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Driver shortage leads to some seasonal Roam routes being altered

“The bottom line of our driver shortage is we’re going to have to adjust some service levels from what was planned. ... It’s not unique to the Bow Valley. I think we tend to see it more than other areas because of the cost of housing and trying to get people to move here. It’s challenging. This is the first year we have been significantly short of drivers and not being able to find enough quality applicants to fill all the seats we need.”
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A Roam transit bus drives along Banff Avenue in 2021. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – A shortage of drivers will see Roam transit alter some routes servicing the Town of Banff and Lake Louise.

The Tunnel Mountain (Route 2) will run at about a 30-minute service instead of the planned 20 minutes and the Route 8s scenic that runs the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Lake Louise will begin July 1 and run Fridays to Sundays instead of seven days a week this summer.

Roam also won’t operate Parks Canada early bird shuttles between Banff and Lake Louise, but the service will continue under a Parks Canada contractor.

“The bottom line of our driver shortage is we’re going to have to adjust some service levels from what was planned. We still have the opportunity throughout the summer, if we’re able to get that capacity that we can increase the services,” said Martin Bean, CAO of the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission (BVRTSC) at its monthly meeting.

“It’s not unique to the Bow Valley. I think we tend to see it more than other areas because of the cost of housing and trying to get people to move here. It’s challenging. This is the first year we have been significantly short of drivers and not being able to find enough quality applicants to fill all the seats we need.”

Bean said the public transit organization needs an additional seven drivers for summer service.

He said the biggest challenge is the seasonal summer routes when the service goes from having about 40 drivers in the winter to needing roughly 70 in the summer.

“We’re open to any part-time driver who may have other jobs, but are open to one or two days a week to drive for Roam to full-time seasonal drivers committed to full-time hours from May to October,” Bean said. “We’re very flexible and we try to have a real balance.”

He said the shortage won’t impact the increase in Canmore services, free transit for Banff residents in the townsite and the route to the industrial compound in Banff. Routes that are year round can have more dedicated drivers, Bean said, adding seasonal routes are the biggest challenge.

With the Bow Valley Parkway being closed, the 8s route will begin operating for July and August on Fridays to Sundays.

“If we work with those service levels, it’ll still be tight and we’ll be asking drivers to work overtime – and there are enough drivers who would like to work overtime – but it’s something we have to look at going forward. We have to have a hiring strategy and retention strategy to allow us to hire and keep more drivers,” Bean said.

Sixteen drivers have completed or are completing training, while two left for other jobs after starting training. Seven more accepted jobs, but were unable to find adequate housing in the valley.

Throughout the Bow Valley – but also most of Canada – a staffing shortage has significantly impacted employers.

The spring labour market review published by the Job Resource Centre referred to it as a staffing drought. Statistics Canada also reported 915,500 unfilled positions in the fourth quarter of 2021 which was a 63 per cent increase from the same period in 2020.

Roam didn’t experience the hiring difficulty in 2021, largely due to other municipally-run transit services not fully operating because of COVID-19 and tourist companies drastically reducing their operations.

However, all but one of those drivers returned to their previous work because of the possibility of earning tips and preference in driving charters, a BVRTSC staff report stated.

While the transit service has increased wages to be between $26.50 to $31 an hour, the report highlighted it’s still a struggle to find and keep drivers.

Bean said drivers are from all age ranges from being semi-retired to the 25 to 30 demographic. There has been some success in hiring Canadian Rockies Public School division drivers for the summer, but Bean noted how CRPS is also desperate for qualified drivers.

Roam will be looking at a recruiting and retention strategy that could potentially recommend staff accommodation and promoting year round routes, Bean said.

“It’s definitely becoming necessary to attract people,” he said. “That’s one of the challenges we found in recruiting this year is that we had a number of people decline offers because they couldn’t find reasonably priced accommodations in the Bow Valley.”

In addition to the staff shortage, parts for buses have also become critical as the supply chain has ground to a near halt.

In the past, Bean said they could send a bus to Calgary and have it back within a day or two. However, they’re now often facing wait periods of 30 or more days.

In the winter, as much as 40 per cent of the fleet was waiting for parts, he said.

“It’s a worldwide part shortage. It creates challenges for our maintenance team and our operations team,” Bean said. “There’s challenges with waiting for parts, waiting for parts to be fabricated or supplied.

If we need a part, there may be someone else ahead of us elsewhere in the country. … The maintenance and operation team do a really fantastic job of juggling vehicles and drivers and making sure we can provide service.”