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Consortium shakes up bus operators

New bus drivers - Wellington-Dufferin Student Transportation Services recently awarded 2018-19 tenders for its 483 bus routes, taking the number of operators from 10 to five.  Advertiser file photo

Consortium shakes up bus operators

by Jaime Myslik

GUELPH - Come September many of the yellow buses taking students to school will be emblazoned with a different name.

Wellington-Dufferin Student Transportation Services (WDSTS), the consortium in charge of busing for local school boards,  recently awarded new tenders for all 483 bus routes in its catchment area.

The move cuts the total number of bus operators in half, from 10 to five, leaving a number of drivers unsure they’ll have a job next school year.

“Drivers have options,” said Wendy Dobson, general manager of WDSTS. “They can go wherever they want. We still need the same amount of drivers and more.”

Dobson added there should be a job for every current driver, if they wish to continue.

The process began last October when the consortium issued its request for proposals (RFP).

“This is now the second time that a proposal has gone out for home-to-school services and we did the process in ... three stages of meeting mandatory requirements and then we performed an audit process and then obviously there’s pricing,” Dobson explained.

The first RFP process took place in 2009.

At the time, WDSTS general manager Greg Seguin told the Advertiser the initial round of tenders would realize an annual savings of $661,000.

However, when asked if this year’s RFP process would offer cost savings, Dobson said, “it’s not about the money.”

She refused to provide annual WDSTS budget figures.

“I understand that there are budgets and things like that, but we are in a time when we’re faced with minimum wage increases, right?” Dobson said.

“[Prices are] not going to go down with those kinds of factors that are facing us in the next 18 months. It’s impossible.”

She added that as it is, bus drivers aren’t being paid enough.

“If anything this contract addresses drivers being paid better,” Dobson said. “They are the backbone of this industry and I can’t stress that enough.”

During the most recent round of tenders, Dobson said the focus was on a “division audit,” which involved WDSTS visiting bidders to complete an evaluation.

The consortium looked at aspects such as maintenance programs, policies and procedures, driver training programs and internal tracking systems to ensure follow-up and performance measures.

“You had to meet a threshold of 80 per cent to pass the audit,” Dobson said.

“And then if you pass the audit process, then the financials were opened and it was a cumulative score between your division audit and your financials.”

The tenders awarded are for a 10-year contract.

In Guelph the winning bidder was Switzer-Carty Transportation (based in Burlington).

In central Wellington the contract went to Denny Bus Lines (Erin) and First Student Canada (Burlington).

In northern Wellington Cook School Bus Lines Ltd. (Mount Forest) won the bid.

In Dufferin County Attridge Transportation (Burlington) was awarded the bid. Cook and First Student were also awarded the three provincial school routes.

The companies specified an area when they made bids, but no one company could be awarded more than 32% (154) of the total 483 routes.

“We set that rule,” Dobson said. “You never want to have one or just two proponents ... if something were to go wrong you have nobody left to help you if there was a situation that occurred.

“You always want to have a good pool of operators to help you out if there was an issue.”

Cook School Bus Lines, which has been in business for 55 years, will be going from one route to more than 70 routes for the next 10 years (the company held 16 routes prior to the 2010 RFP process).

“We’re excited about moving forward,” said Rod Cook, who co-owns the business with his wife Lesa McDougall.

However, he said he doesn’t like the RFP process.

“It’s tough on a lot of people, this process of sort of switching a business back and forth,” he said.

“Kind of gone are the days of where it was a consistent school busing business for drivers and families and school boards for decades because of the way the old system worked.

“But this new system ... I don’t find it appealing ... doing business this way through this RFP.

“It was way better, way more comfortable, more consistent with the old contract of 10 years ago.”

While bus lines providing service in 2018-19 may change, Dobson said bus companies new to the area, including Switzer-Carty Transportation and Attridge,  will not be bringing drivers with them - they will be hiring local.

“Our plan is to employ the drivers that are presently doing the routes,” Cook said. “That’s paramount to us that the drivers and the kids, the consortia, are not anxious.

“We want things to carry on seamlessly.”

Dobson said each of the new operators will be holding an open house to let drivers know what routes are available.

“They’re going to welcome all drivers to come. If we have your route, please let us know, we’ll do our very best to get the drivers back on the same routes that they were driving before,” she said.

While Dobson said open houses are set to begin in February, Cook said Cook School Bus Lines Ltd. will be holding a job fair on Jan. 26 at its Mount Forest office from 10am to 2pm.

Dobson said parents shouldn’t worry about losing their child’s bus driver.

“There’s a very good chance that your child could have the same bus driver,” she said. “However, if for some reason you don’t, we are ensuring that the new bus driver ... knows the stops, knows where to go, that they’re doing dry runs, trial runs.

“We’re going to ensure ... this is a smooth transition. I would say a good majority of the current drivers will transition over to their route because of the kids and the families that they know.”

 

January 19, 2018

 
 

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