Small companies can only have one customer under current system, protesters say
TORONTO: Dozens of yellow school buses circled the Ontario legislature February 27 to protest what they call an unfair process driving family-owned companies out of the student transportation business. Small companies that have operated school buses for generations are going out of business due to a flawed bidding process that is allowing larger companies to outbid them, they said.
Many family-owned companies can only have one customer under the current system, and if they lose a contract bid in the first round they’re out of business, said Steve Hull, president of the Independent School Bus Operators Association of Ontario. Independent bus operators aren’t opposed to competitive bidding, they just want the government to address the flaws in the process, he said.
“There’s some unique economic principles at play here that they need to take into consideration,” Hull said.
When the controversy threatened rural Liberal seats last year, the government announced a temporary moratorium on competitive bidding while it reviewed the process, said Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod. She also claimed the party is hiding a report by former integrity commissioner Coulter Osborne the Tories believe will highlight deficiencies in the bidding process.
Education Minister Laurel Broten said the ministry never forced school boards to stop the procurement process. It simply told them that they didn’t have to move ahead with it for six months while the government sought advice from Osborne and other stakeholders, but many boards went ahead anyway. Broten didn’t say if she’ll release the Osborne report, saying the ministry is still looking at its recommendations.
Broten said the government is also considering the advice of economist Don Drummond on school busing. Drummond’s austerity report for Ontario noted student transportation costs have increased 34 percent since 2002. He concluded the moratorium on competitive procurement delays the development of an efficient and effective school bus service. The moratorium should be lifted and school boards should be able to charge a “modest”‘ fee for school buses to be set by the province, he recommended.