Meet current, new bus drivers

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If you love kids, then the life of a bus driver could very well be for you. That’s the message three local Southland Transportation bus drivers are giving.

Christine Chugg, 35, a mother of four kids, has been working as a local bus driver for three years. “This year’s my biggest run ever,” she said Wednesday.

“I have 17 elementaries (elementary-aged kids) this year, and last year I had eight.” Chug said her short-bus vehicle also carries 15 high school aged children, which she picks up in the morning first because high school starts sooner.

Why choose a career as a bus driver? “It works with my kids,” said Chugg, who noted she can take her kids to work with her. “It was easier, not having to put them in daycare. It works great, for the most part.”

It wasn’t as difficult to get into as a person might think either, noted Chugg, who had some driving experience. “I had driven a pilot truck,” she said. “I’ve driven big vehicles.”

As a bus driver and a mom, Chugg said her cargo is a lot of fun to transport. “The kids are really good kids,” she said. “I refer to them as ‘my kids.’” Chugg said she had one student riding her bus last year that was going into junior high, not part of her route. He liked his bus driver so much, he wanted to take her along into the seventh grade. “I had to tell him, sorry, I can’t do that,” she laughed.

As expected, the bus driver’s favourite part of the job isn’t hard to guess. “It’s the kids,” she said. “Getting to know the kids.”

The least favourite part? “I don’t like the winter,” said Chugg. “With the coldness, the bus doesn’t warm up very well.” She said winter driving gives her a little bit of nervousness, “Because I am carrying the most precious cargo out of anything.”

As for other motorists, Chugg said St. Albert is nice to drive in. “I find St. Albert very patient,” she said.

“They’ll let you in, when I’m signalling. They’re very good. For the most part, very courteous too.”

Two new bus drivers also come as a complete set, husband and wife Frankie Hidalgo and Anngybel Ortiz. This will be their first school year as bus drivers.

Hidalgo, 25, said he and his wife recently welcomed their first child. Their son is now 16 months old.

They’ve never worked as bus drivers before. “Not quite yet, no,” said Hidalgo Wednesday.

Hidalgo said he loves working with kids and wanted to find a career where he could do that. His father already worked for Southland Transportation and suggested driving a school bus.

Hidalgo did a bit of four-ton truck driving, and liked it and said he was born to drive a truck. “I like driving and I like kids,” he said with a big grin.

Both went through training to obtain their Class 2 licence, based on how many passengers the vehicle transports. He said the two-week training included written and driving and wasn’t too hard because he already had experience driving larger vehicles. “I’m used to driving big vehicles,” he said.

Hidalgo said he’s really excited about his first school year. “I’m doing a special needs route,” he said, noting he also will be driving a mini-bus. “As opposed to the big bus, the small bus has fewer students. There’s more of a relationship with the students.”

Ortiz, 24, said the idea of driving a bus was a bit intimidating at first, but the more she thought about it, the better it got.

“I said no, they’re huge,” she said Wednesday. “In the beginning I was afraid. Later, I thought about it and it seemed like a really good job to me.” Ortiz noted she also can take her son with her while she works.

Ortiz didn’t have as much driving experience with large vehicles, so training was more intense. “They tried to coach me,” she said. “Not in a bad way. They wanted me to do good. They checked my mistakes I made.”

Ortiz said driving a school bus is a big responsibility, but that’s good. “I feel big, responsible, like an adult. Now I’m not a student. I’m the person in charge.”

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