The Tri-Board School Bus Operators Association, which runs school buses in North Hastings, has brought their grievances to Queen’s Park.
The Association is protesting the province using a Request for Proposal (RFP) system to select who can run its bus lines. The system awards bus lines to the lowest bidder, which the Association says favours large bus companies and threatens to put smaller ones out of business.
Protest Organizer Sherry Barker says around 40 buses circled Queens Park on Tuesday, June 1st. Prior to the protest, the group sent emails to the Premier and Minister of Education’s Offices, as well as the MPPs in the region.
Barker says they talked to representatives from the NDP, Provincial Green Party and members of the media. While no one from the Provincial Conservatives came out to meet them, Baker says party members, like Hastings-Lennox-Addington MPP Daryl Kramp, are aware of their message.
Barker is urging the provincial government to make good on their promises to scrap the system when it was first implemented. The Association’s members will continue to push the government into making the process fair and reasonable for all parties. The Association held a similar protest earlier this year in Madoc.
The RFP System puts bus route contracts out for tender, and the lowest bidder would operate the school busses. Laurie Evans, Operator with R&L business in Bancroft, says the RFP system could put his bus company out of business.
In the original system, called benchmark contracting, the bus companies would negotiate directly with the school board using a third party, who would set the market price of bus services for the board in question. However, under the RFP system, those contracts would be up to the lowest bidder. If a larger company were to put in a lower bid, Evan’s business of 30 years would be gone in an instant.
The system would also muscle out small operators. Barker points to a small bus company on Wolfe Island south of Kingston that services bus routes for the whole island. While the company only manages six routes, the current RFP system would require them to bid on dozens of routes that they would not be able to service. Barker stresses that this is not a hypothetical scenario, pointing to a bus company from Hamilton that had to shut its doors after 50 years in business after losing out on an RFP. In the end, Barker says it’s about saving local businesses.