Local school bus operators worried about losing routes next year

The rest of the county’s school bus routes are going to tender on Dec. 22, which could mean an agonizing holiday season for local operators worried about the future.

“There’s going to be three of us out of business at least,” said Doug Sargent, president of Brenmar Transit, of Harriston.

Sargent is one of six Wellington County operators to receive a notice last week from Wellington-Dufferin Student Transportation Services, which is in charge of school buses for the two counties.

The letter informed operators the consortium is going to tender next month on 334 routes, the remaining 75% of its 439 bus routes, for the 2010-11 school year.

“We have no reason to be positive,” Sargent said, noting Brenmar will have all 29 of its remaining routes go to tender.

Sargent said he learned his lesson in the spring, when the consortium – one of three in the province selected to participate in a pilot project – put 25% or 105 of its routes to tender for the current school year.

De­spite entering the process fairly optimistically, Brenmar lost all eight of its pilot routes.

And to make matters worse, Sargent said, there have been no adjustments made to the process, despite feedback from operators and a promise from the consortium to consider changes and to assign a “fairness commissioner” to the pro­cess.

Joyce Marshall, part owner and operations manager of Denny Bus Lines Ltd., near Ospringe, said the consortium is using a “flawed and outdated” template for the tenders.

Denny’s lost all 10 of its pilot routes this year, and has its remaining 36 routes going to tender next month.

“This is the balance of the business,” she said. “We’re not overly optimistic here either.”

Marshall’s parents, Clar­ence and Vera Denny, started the business in 1959, and she said they are extremely upset about the entire process.

“It’s the fashion by which the consortium goes about it,” Sargent said of what infuriates many operators.

“Certainly it’s a loss to us, but it’s a huge loss to the communities … There’s no compassion or caring for the loss that there’s going to be to the communities.”

Sargent noted local operators buy their fuel, parts, tires and insurance locally and also make a lot of in-kind donations to youth and Sports programs.

“You can bet they’re not going to get that from [the com­panies from] the States,” said Sargent of outside bidders who have been successful. In the spring, 103 of the 105 rou­tes that went to tender were awarded to two multi-national corporations.

Student Transportation of Canada Inc., a subsidiary of a U.S.-based company which operates locally under the name Elliott Coach Lines, came out of the first round of the pilot project with a net gain of 37 routes, for a total of 167 in the consortium.

And Stock Transportation, another multinational firm, had a net gain of 25 routes in the spring bidding, for a total of 61 in the consortium.

Meanwhile, in addition to the 18 routes lost by Denny’s and Brenmar, Cook Bus Lines in Mount Forest lost three of four routes, and Epoch’s Garage in Kenilworth lost both of its routes, though it gained one previously held by Bren­mar.

Local operators are worried that trend will continue, with dire consequences this time around.

“There will be people out of business that’s for sure,” Marshall said.

Cook Bus Lines could lose up to 16 routes this time around, while Epoch’s Garage has eight up for tender, Cherrey Bus Lines, of Drayton, has two routes available and Dave and Anna Langdon, of Alma, could lose all three of their routes.

“I feel we’re being shoved out,” said Dave Langdon, who also was not optimistic about the outcome of the upcoming tender process.

“If we lose any [routes], we’ll lose all three, and it will mean putting us out of business for sure,” he said.

Langdon finds it ironic that a government that continually expounds on the benefits of buying local and supporting Canadian companies would have a hand in driving local com­panies out of business.

“They seem to be talking out both sides of their mouth,” he said of the government. He also takes exception to the dictatorial nature of the consortium.

Rod Cook, owner of Cook Bus Lines, agreed and said school board trustees don’t even have any say over the consortium’s practices.

Cook feels local companies don’t have to lose all their routes to be forced out of business.

“If you lose any, I think you’re out,” Cook said, telling the Advertiser he is “not positive” about the outcome for his company, which was started by his father, Karl, about 46 years ago.

Considering the terms of the new contracts –  initially five years, with an option of three extensions at one year apiece – Cook said it is not likely local companies forced out next year can get back into the game when the contracts expire in five to eight years.

“The capital costs would be outrageous,” he said, noting old equipment would be obsolete.

Greg Seguin, general manager of Wellington-Dufferin Student Transportation Servi­ces, said earlier this year the initial round of tenders will realize an annual savings of $661,000.


Yet local operators say any savings will be short lived; in a few years there will be only two or three multi-national firms that will be able to charge whatever they like. Plus, they say, that service may be inferior.

“There’s going to be a big change,” Sargent said.


Sargent told the Advertiser the smaller, local companies can’t compete on price – which he says is the main criteria being used by the consortium –  and they also can’t dedicate the time and manpower to the tender process that the large multi-nationals can.


The consortium is holding an information meeting for operators on Nov. 26, but if it’s like a similar meeting offered in the spring, Sargent doubts it will be useful.

“It was of no benefit or consequence because they wouldn’t answer any questions,” he said of the previous meeting.

Operators also wondered why the consortium was proceeding with the Dec. 22 tender date, when it made a previous commitment to hold off at least until January.


Seguin did not return calls from the Advertiser by press time.