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Ottawa Student Transportation Authority apologizes for school bus driver shortage as GM takes leave of absence

The chief administrative officer and general manager of the Ottawa Student Transportation Authority (OSTA) is taking a leave of absence, the school bus authority has announced.

A statement from OSTA's board of directors made the announcement Monday.

The board of directors said it is appointing an interim operations manager and is assuring families that staff have assumed all of Vicky Kyriaco's responsibilities in the meantime.

No reason for Kyriaco's leave of absence was given, nor was she named in the statement from the board of directors, but it comes after a difficult start to the school year for many families who didn't have school bus transportation.

A media release from the Ottawa Catholic School Board quotes the OSTA board of directors, which offered an apology for the disruptions.

"The OSTA Board of Directors would like to take this opportunity to apologize for failing to resolve driver shortages, especially in rural communities, before the beginning of the school year," the email said.

"The last month has been tumultuous and frustrating for parents and students. We use today's news as an opportunity to rebuild our relationship with those in the community who depend on reliable transportation to get to school. In time, we hope to re-earn the trust of parents and students, and we are committed to ensuring this situation never happens again."

No other information was provided.

The new school year began without enough drivers, and more than 9,000 students in Ottawa's English public and catholic school boards were left without school bus transportation. Frustrations have been mounting as parents, many of them living in rural parts of Ottawa, have had to rearrange their schedules to drive their kids several kilometres to and from school every day. In some cases, drivers have faced abuse and have quit. OSTA said over the summer that it negotiated contracts with only nine of the 10 companies that provide school buses, leaving it short more than 100 drivers.

Coun. Clarke Kelly says he hopes the shakeup refocuses OSTA and helps restore service to the people who need it.

"I was happy to see a change in tone from OSTA and perhaps a repositioning back to working with the public," he said. "Communicating a bit better with the public, and really acknowledging the scale of the problem and how important it was."

Last week, OSTA outlined the next steps it was taking to resolve the driver shortage and get more kids back on school buses, including training new drivers and looking at the possibility of having coach buses provide some school transportation. In the long-term, OSTA said it was also considering working with school boards to change school start and end times to maximize how many students can be transported to school.

Since Sept. 5, OSTA said it was able to reinstate 94 school bus runs.

Local parent Jon Spicer, whose daughter was once dropped off in the wrong neighbourhood, says he is hopeful changes will make OSTA more responsive.

"It seems to have been quite a difficult month for the organization. And you know, we've had such a difficult time getting in touch with OSTA and having any response from them that I hope that there's changes there in the in the future," he said. "What I would hope to see in the future from OSTA is better communication with the parents and people that they support to ensure that our kids get to and from school safely."

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Dave Charbonneau. Top Stories

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