- New procurement process will create monopoly suppliers
BELLEVILLE, ON, Oct. 17, 2012 /CNW/ - First Ornge. Now Yllow. Instead of celebrating "Small Business Week", fifteen (15) independent school bus operators in Eastern Ontario will be going to court on Thursday to seek an injunction against their only customer - Tri-Board Student Transportation Services of Napanee, ON. Tri-Board coordinates home-to-school student transportation for three school boards: Limestone District School Board, Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, and Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, serving the families of Frontenac, Lennox & Addington and Hastings and Prince Edward Counties.
Tri-Board issued a 160-page Request for Proposal (RFP) on September 17th. The deadline for submissions is October 31st. Once the RFPs are evaluated, as few as 5 of the 71 companies that have picked up RFP documents will be given routes for the 5 year contract. Local businesses can't wait 5 years. School bus RFPs have been proven to wipe out 90% of the competition in the first round, and result in monopolies and much higher rates, according to a 1991 Auditor General Report. As foreshadowed by the Drummond Report, school bus transportation may soon cost families out-of-pocket, or be eliminated altogether, like California.
Given the urgency of the matter and the irreparable harm that the process will inflict on the school bus industry, the operators are seeking an interim and permanent injunction restraining the closing of the RFP until a court can hear their lawsuit and determine whether there are breaches of contract and breaches of the duty of fairness. This case will have province-wide implications.
All of the plaintiffs have provided excellent service to Tri-Board for years. Sherry Barker of Al Parkhurst Transportation Ltd - in business since 1957 - has been running the family business since her father, Jim, passed away suddenly in 2010. "If I could avoid going to court you know I would. We have been left with no choice." Ted Boldrick of Boldick Bus Service Ltd. in Tweed worries what his demise will mean for his local town. "I contribute $1.2 million to the local economy. When I'm gone, that income will be gone too." A copy of the Statement of Claim is available at www.isboa.ca
In January of this year, the Honourable Coulter Osborne, former Associate Chief Justice of Ontario and the former Provincial Integrity Commissioner, released a report on Competitive Procurement in Student Transportation. He called for the process to be delayed and for an independent third party to investigate better approaches "…with fewer casualties and downstream risks." So far the government has ignored Mr. Osborne's recommendations. Local trustees have been effectively removed from any oversight of Tri-Board for years.
Currently there are 55 school bus companies in Tri-Board serving the large geographic area from Bancroft, Whitney and Ompah in the north to Quinte West, Belleville, and Kingston in the south. The 15 plaintiffs currently operate 249 school bus routes of the 608 routes being put out to tender. Collectively the 15 companies represent over 700 years of service in eastern Ontario. Of the 53 companies, 26 are walking away from the school bus business without bidding meaning a minimum of 76% of Tri-Board operators are against this process. Nearly all 50 independent operators in Tri-Board are supporting the plaintiff's legal trust fund. Many more school bus operators across Ontario support the legal case, knowing that they too will be wiped out when their businesses are given away through an RFP later this year. Friends and customers of the plaintiffs are invited to visit www.isboa.ca and donate to their legal fight.
Lesa McDougall of Cooks School Bus Lines in Mount Forest, ON knows firsthand what these operators are up against. Her family's school bus business of 20 routes was virtually wiped out overnight by an RFP in 2010. "This is a process designed to collapse a whole segment of the school bus industry. We were told we could compete, that we'd be fine. There is a crisis in rural Ontario and our communities won't know until it's too late." To date, dozens of Ontario communities - including Kenora, Kirkland Lake, Tillsonburg, and Kenilworth - have lost their local school bus operator and all of the volunteer, donated and emergency transportation that comes with them.
Karen Cameron is the Executive Director of the Independent School Bus Operators Association and fears that as many as 100 school bus companies will be wiped out by similar RFP processes across the province. "What Tri-Board is choosing to do is competition FOR the market, not competition IN the market. Typically government regulates against this kind of destructive competition, they don't promote it and create monopolies."
The school bus is the safest form of transportation. Family-owned school bus operators have higher driver retention rates than larger companies. Parkhurst Transportation, for example, has a 91% employee retention rate. Many employees have been with the company for over 20 years and three generations.
The Independent School Bus Operators Association (ISBOA) represents over 100 school bus companies, operating nearly 2300 school bus routes across the province. Visit the Independent School Bus Operators Facebook Page. Contribute to their legal trust fund by visiting www.isboa.ca
Image with caption: "Accountability? Where were the trustees? (CNW Group/Independent School Bus Operators Association)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20121017_C7673_PHOTO_EN_19490.jpg
SOURCE: Independent School Bus Operators Association
For further information:
Media Contact: Karen Cameron, 289-668-4009