“I don’t know if I can do this!”

She used to train sea lions at Wonderland. And then she applied to be a school bus driver for Sinton Transportation. As she took her hours at the wheel to earn her B class licence, she confided to HR Manager Christine Johnson: “I don’t know if I can do this, deal with all these children on this school bus.”

“She used to train sea lions!” comments Christine. “I think she can handle anything.”

Nobody ever wants to get ‘stuck’ behind a big yellow school bus, with kids peering out the back window and traffic stopping and starting to accommodate the stop arm that flips out for each exiting child.

But wait! It might be interesting to know that in a standard 40-foot bus are 72 children, either elementary or high school kids. They represent a true microcosm of society, all being cared for by their driver.

If you think about economic diversity, cultural differences, psychological differences, personalities that range from painfully shy to painfully gregarious, well, you’ve got the makings of a school bus in Simcoe County.

The B class drivers who take up the call working about five hours a day (depending on the bus route) do it for many reasons. Some are full time parents who want the flexibility of being able to take their toddlers to work with them, stop and do their school volunteer work before returning to pick up their end of school run.

Others take on the job because it’s good, steady part time money and it allows them to still attend to their full time job. Christine says Sinton drivers include a real estate broker, a financial advisor, a former Armed Forces helicopter pilot, people who used to work for Canadian Pacific or Canadian National Railway.

If the kids on the bus are a microcosm, so are the drivers. For instance, along with the sea lion trainer is a gentleman who used to be a professional water skier who choreographed water skiing shows, travelled the province and the world, giving demonstrations.

Do people like their work? Well, I guess so. Leita Handy has been driving for Sinton since 1983, primarily in Oro going to W.R. Best. And Ella Besse is Sinton’s longest serving driver… 30 years… she’s been driving into Shanty Bay school ever since she started. She’s now delivering the children of her original passengers to their daily school activities.

Marilyn Shepherd just received an award for 20 years of safe driving at the Sinton Recognition evening. Shirley King was honoured for 22 years of safe driving.

Christine started as a driver 11 years ago, herself a stay at home mom who wanted to work without putting her kids into day care. She was able to blend it all behind the wheel of a Sinton bus. She’s now full time in the office, handling Human Resources issues. But in between she conducted driver training and testing, becoming the signing authority for MTC. Her expanded role as HR Manager includes health and safety, education and training.

Like any industry, the school bus business faces huge challenges in the past few years. The buses are crammed with additional riders; growth in the area means many new schools and many new drivers. Road rage is frequent. Sintons bids on delivery contracts for both public and separate school boards and the French school board which is managed out of Welland. With rising fuel costs, increased prices for parts, insurance, supplies, the Sinton motto of Safely Moving People continues to ring out the philosophy over the challenges.

Sinton Bus Lines started in 1952 when young Floyd Sinton, aged 16 and a student at Barrie Central Collegiate, talked his father into lending him $900 so her could buy a school bus. [In 1952, $900 would have supported a family for a few months] Well, the bus needed a bit of fixing up and Floyd and his dad got it road ready. Floyd was so enamored with his new vehicle he decided to drive it in to school from his home in Craighurst every day.

And along the way were kids who needed rides. It didn’t take long before Floyd’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and soon the bus was full. Today, 56 years later, there are over 300 Sinton vehicles, school buses that hold 72 children, 20 children, four wheelchair passengers etc. The Limo division is busy and the highway coach buses take charters all over North America. Sinton is the official carrier for the Barrie Colts and drivers take the team to all their away games.

Sinton gives back generously to the community, too. They donate all their buses and drivers to do the toy and food drive pickups at area schools for Christmas Cheer. It’s a huge effort.

While the company is headed up today by Floyd (and wife Barbara) ‘s son Stan, there are 30 full time employees, 258 school bus drivers, 14 people in the shop, with limo and coach drivers rounding out the total.

Christine says there are always openings for school bus drivers… it’s a challenging experience with a ton of rewards. “Drivers have to drive and be part referee, part nurse, part psychologist, part sociologist. They are a major part of a child’s day, at the beginning and at the end. And they have to keep both eyes on the road and still deal with their community of up to 72 kids.

Sinton carries 10,000 passengers a day, thousands and thousands of kilometers. Christine would love another 30 drivers right now for the Barrie area and another 10 for Collingwood. What an interesting way to put some zing back into your life!

www.sinton.com, click on employment opportunities.

Thanks, Floyd, for convincing your dad to help you buy the bus!