FAQ for 2022-2023 Return to School

Why was the Parent Portal open so late this year?  We usually have 2 or 3 weeks to look at our child’s information.

OSTA knows that parents/guardians need accurate information to prepare their children for transportation.  This year’s route design was delayed due to changing schedules and revised confirmations of attendance throughout August. OSTA needed to ensure that all routes were as complete as possible before sharing the information with parents/guardians.

Why was the empty seat/courtesy seating program suspended this year?  It seems there is a lot of space on the bus.

Due to operational pressures and the ongoing driver shortage resulting in long-term cancellations, the Empty Seat/Courtesy Seating Program is suspended for the 2023/24 school year.

If parents need to find their own means of transportation to school, it is recommended that active transportation is used to get to school as much as possible.  Walking and rolling the whole way, or part of the way, will reduce traffic around the school and provide a mask-free experience.

We have many great programs and resources designed to help students who will be walking, rolling or being driven to school. Visit our website to learn more about OSTA’s Walk-a-Block maps, Walk & Roll Meetup, Walking Route Maps, and Pedestrian Safety Tips.

My child is new to Public Transit and OC Transpo, where can I get information?

This September, many grade 7-12 students will be assigned to take OC Transpo to school. OC Transpo is a convenient option for students, allowing them the freedom to use their free Presto School Board Card for extra-curricular activities, commitments or attending part-time jobs. OC Transpo has been working with OSTA to prepare routes to accommodate the number of students expected to ride this year.

A free Presto School Board Pass valid from September to June 30th will be issued to eligible students. Students will be notified by their school at the beginning of September when their Presto cards are available for pick up.

For information on taking public transit for first-time riders, please visit our Public Transit Information Page. We recommend families visit plan.octranspo.com/plan before the upcoming school year for exact bus stop locations and times nearest to their homes. Please make sure to enter the first day of school (September 6) to see an accurate schedule specific to your school. It is also recommended to use the “Arrive By” Time for the morning run to ensure students arrive at school on time. For afternoon runs, select “Depart At” – Please note that the time is displayed in 24-hour format (14:30h = 2:30 pm). Students are also encouraged to practice taking OC Transpo before the beginning of the school year to help guarantee a smooth transition.

To help new riders transition to OC Transpo, OSTA and OC Transpo have developed additional resources on our website, including a helpful video and an FAQ to help guide those new to public transit.

Grace Period

OC Transpo has also advised its bus drivers to allow students to embark on buses without paying fares or showing Presto cards on the first day of school. Students are not required to show identification but may be asked to confirm they are students verbally.

This will allow students to attend school while school staff organize Presto cards for distribution to students.

Registering the PRESTO Cards

Students should register their cards to protect the balance if lost, stolen or damaged. Registration allows students to get a replacement card quickly and transfer any remaining balance (school board pass).

It’s easy to do at prestocard.ca. For information on registering your card, please visit our website for new and returning students.

Returning students who registered their cards last year can log into their existing account and add the new card. To add it, log into their account, click on the drop-down in the webpage’s upper right corner and select “Add an Existing Card.”

Safety on OC Transpo

OC Transpo implemented health and safety measures in close consultation with Ottawa Public Health and aligned with provincial and federal guidelines. For more information on how OC Transpo is keeping its riders safe, visit OC Transpo’s website.

When will Presto cards be distributed?

Most Presto cards have been sent to schools for distribution to students.  Schools will set up their own schedules for distribution.  OSTA reminds students in grades 9-12 to register their cards at www.prestocard.ca as soon as they receive their school board Presto card.

Does my child need to wear a mask?

Masks are no longer mandatory for any students on yellow bus, wheelchair bus, vans or public transportation.

My child alternates between my home and his/her other parent’s home. Why can’t we get transportation to two homes when school starts?

If your child alternated between two homes last year, that would continue this year.  New applications can be submitted after September 15. Complex schedules require reviewing multiple seating plans. Should a space become available, and we can safely accommodate the request, you will be contacted.

Why do I have to assess my child’s health every day?

The Ministry of Education and Ottawa Public Health recommend using this screening tool to help parents and guardians decide whether or not their child/children should take the school bus or attend school.  Symptoms include a runny nose and/or sneezing, dry cough, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, headache, loss of sense of smell and/or taste, etc. You should not put your child on any vehicle if they exhibit these symptoms.  The Driver may refuse the student access to the vehicle if they see the child is visibly sick.

Will there be hand-sanitizer on the bus?

No, there will not be any hand-sanitizer on the bus for students. OSTA assessed the benefit of providing hand-sanitizer on the bus and determined that the safety concerns were greater than the benefits.  Excess hand-sanitizer can create a slippery surface on the stairs and floor, is flammable on extremely hot days, can cause nausea and discomfort if students lick their hands or ingest fluid, and would be difficult to manage during cold-weather days where mittens and gloves are involved.  OSTA strongly recommends parents ensure students wash their hands at home before leaving for the bus stop and then use their personal hand-sanitizer prior to boarding and getting off the bus, when possible.

How many students will be in each seat?

Loading capacity will be as normal, with a full load being 48-70 students, depending on the number of eligible students and their grade level. Students may be seated 2 or 3 per bench.

What does “enhanced cleaning” entail?

On a bus, the entire vehicle is cleaned twice a day with approved disinfectant spray.  High touch areas such as seat tops/front/back, windows, window latches, walls, stairs, and handrails are sprayed.  Handrails will be cleaned between every run.

On a van, exterior and interior door panels and handles, windows, seat belt latches, buckle guards and any plastic or metal surfaces on car seats and boosters are sprayed.  Cloth seats will not be sprayed as these would remain too wet for riders.

Will the bus/van be cleaned between every load of students?

Buses and vans will be cleaned twice a day.  Due to limited capacity in our system and tight timing of routes, it is not operationally possible to clean thoroughly between every run.  OSTA has put in place other mitigation strategies like having students wear masks and grouping students by family bubble or classroom cohorts.  Handrails will be cleaned between every run.  If there is any noticeable body fluid in a van or wheelchair bus, the driver will clean those affected areas between runs.

Can I clean the area where my child will be sitting?

In vans only, parents/guardians are welcome to clean any plastic or metal surfaces with an unscented wipe, before loading their child in the van.  Sprays will not be allowed.

Should I wear a mask when I load my child in a van?

Parents/guardians of any students assigned to vans, and who are responsible for securing their child within the van, may choose to wear a mask to reduce the potential spread of the virus to other riders in the van, although it is not mandatory.

Why is our driver not wearing a mask and/or face shield?

Because Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is designed to protect the wearer, drivers of yellow buses and vans will have the option to wear whatever PPE they feel protects them best, or none at all, at their discretion. Drivers will be provided with PPE, including high-quality non-fit tested N95 masks (optional) or medical-grade masks (minimum requirement), face shields, goggles and rapid antigen tests.

Drivers will also self-assess daily and report any symptoms requiring further testing or isolation to their Operator.  They will be provided with rapid antigen test kits should they become symptomatic.

Will there be a barrier or shield between the driver and the students?

School buses in Ontario follow Transport Canada’s D-250 standards.  The Ministry of Transportation of Ontario, which enforces these standards, has stated that the school bus environment is currently designed to protect students from injury.  The addition of plexiglass, stanchions or other barriers, which have not been crash-tested, could cause injury in the event of a hard stop or accident.

How will drivers be protected as they drive hundreds of students to and from school?

Drivers will be given the option to wear medical-grade masks, goggles, and/or face-shields.  Those who interact closely with students to secure them, such as wheelchair bus drivers, may be wearing paper gowns.  All drivers will be provided hand-sanitizer and the bench behind the driver will be kept vacant, if possible.  Drivers will also wear gloves to protect their hands while using disinfectant spray to clean.

Will there be seat assignments this year?

Seating assignments and cohorting are no longer necessary on buses. Kindergarten students will be seated near the front, and a parent/guardian will be required to meet them at their stop, as usual.

How will students who don’t comply with safety precautions be disciplined?

Students who repeatedly cause disturbances could be suspended either temporarily or permanently from the bus. The Driver will report the misconduct to the school through the Bus Behaviour Report Form. Student and driver safety is our number one priority.

What are you doing about the driver shortage?

The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) and a core group of operators have joined forces and formed a Driver Recruitment Task Force to work on solutions to address the school bus driver shortage and prepare for the upcoming school year.

This past spring, OSTA and its Operators launched a multipronged driver recruitment campaign to attract people interested in work-life balance, who love kids and want to contribute to their community in a meaningful way to apply as a School Bus Driver.

Since April, the DriveYellow.ca campaign has generated:

  • 7,610,803 impressions over multiple digital and traditional channels
  • 2,247 application engagements
  • 163 applications completed
  • 35 drivers hired or in training (26 Yellow Bus Drivers and 9 Van Drivers)

Becoming a Yellow School Bus Driver is not an overnight process; drivers must be vetted, trained, and licensed in a process that can take up to four weeks. Hiring is ongoing and will continue throughout the school year to ensure there is a minimal service disruption.

OSTA and its Operators welcome and thank all new and returning drivers to the road this school year. We recognize your work is invaluable and appreciate your dedication to student education.

How do I find out if our route has been cancelled?

Daily, by midday, OSTA will post a list of routes that have been cancelled for the following day.  There may be cancellations on the morning of service on short notice.  These last-minute cancellations will be posted online, and messages sent to affected parents who have signed up for email communication. OSTA will also advise the media, although it is not guaranteed the media will report each cancelled route.  The best option is to check the website daily.

I just found out our route is cancelled. When will I get transportation again?

Circumstances change daily.  Transportation services will be restored as soon as a driver is available and can commit to the route. Families will be advised when cancelled routes are ready to be reinstated.

For routes impacted by service disruptions, we are working with our operators to reinstate routes by:

  • Moving runs with low ridership into one run
  • Moving students from cancelled routes to existing routes
  • Adding congregated stops
  • Building in delays in arrivals or departures
  • Using alternate modes like vans or public transit
How did OSTA decide which routes to cancel?

OSTA’s and our Operators’ ability to cover open routes really depended on which drivers left their routes and how much extra work or changes remaining drivers were willing to take on. Rural routes where there is no public transit were prioritized as well as schools in “high needs” communities, as provided by school boards.

Traffic around schools is heavy at the best of times.  How will extra traffic be managed at the school now that more parents might be driving their children to school?

OSTA has developed a number of resources to help schools promote a safe school zone.  Walk-a-Block Maps have been developed for every school, and signs have been distributed to every elementary school with a QR code that links to their school’s map.  These encourage parents to park away from the school site and walk partway to school.  City of Ottawa By-Law Services and Ottawa Police Services have also committed resources to help schools manage traffic.  Communication campaigns are also being deployed through radio and social media channels.

What resources are available for a safe walk to school?

Students can have safety in numbers with OSTA’s Walk & Roll Meetup Maps.  Each school’s map show meetup stops where students can gather (and stay apart) while walking to school.  Pedestrian safety tips are also available online.  A number of schools have Walking School Bus Routes available.





Do you want to request a change to a bus stop location?

All requests for changes to bus stop locations must be made in writing to OSTA. Requests for stop changes can not be made over the phone. Requests for changes to stop locations will not be considered until after October 1. Please be aware that school bus drivers are not authorized to make route/stop adjustments. To ensure that your request is directed to the correct person for action, please ensure that your request is sent to the zone in which your child’s school is located.

Do you have a concern about a school bus driver?

Your feedback is very important to the bus companies which transport your child. They strive to ensure that drivers take every precaution possible for the safety of your child. Should you have a concern regarding a particular school bus driver, please have your bus route number handy, and contact the transportation operator (company) directly.

Please contact the office administrator at your child’s school should you wish to report a change to your child’s address or caregiver information. The school will update their student records and this change will automatically be sent to OSTA to apply transportation service changes, if applicable. Any change to your child’s transportation becomes effective on the fourth working day after the change has been entered by the school.

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