$1.25 Newsstand Price
Weekly Independent Local News
Friday, July 12, 2024

Hamilton Bus Lines lose local contract

BY VANESSA STARK

Hamilton Bus Lines has lost their local contract with the Student Transportation Service of Central Ontario (STSCO). This means that students in Peterborough County may see a different bus line as their transportation to school in September.

For the upcoming school year in September, STSCO decided to complete a public procurement process known as a Request for Proposal (RFP) for student transportation in the Peterborough area.

Roy Wierenga, CAO of STSCO said that this type of bidding process is now a standard practice across Ontario for school bus transportation services.

However, according to James Attridge, vice president of Attridge Transportation which is Hamilton Bus Lines’ parent company based in Burlington, this has never been done before locally.

Attridge said, “Historically the Peterborough region has never gone out for a bid-like process before. It’s always been negotiated agreements between the school board and the school bus contractors. Unfortunately, STSCO felt, I guess, it was in the tax payers best interests to put it out for a competitive procurement process. It was delayed quite late and submissions went in around the end of May. And about two weeks ago we started to hear rumors that we might have not been successful. And I ended up reaching out to some of the companies I heard were successful and confirming it that way that we were unfortunately the losers.”

Wierenga told the Herald that the RFP was an open bidding process based on highest score, not necessarily price or lowest bid. He said that all companies needed to meet minimum technical scores before their price would even be considered. While price is a factor in the evaluations, he said that it made up less than half of the overall scoring.

Wierenga said, “The results of this process have now been released and while many current operators obtained contracts, Hamilton Bus Lines was not successful as part of the procurement and bidding process. Hamilton Bus Lines has served our Boards for many years with excellent service, and we recognize and appreciate the significant impact this has had on drivers with Hamilton Bus Lines. I would like to clarify that the new operator WAT (Wheelchair Accessible Transit) was successful and was awarded 30 routes from Hamilton Bus Lines and the remaining Hamilton routes were awarded to two other local existing bus companies.”

He explained that while WAT is taking over 30 of Hamilton Bus Lines routes, Student Transportation of Canada will be taking over the majority of their runs (50 routes) while Century Transportation was awarded seven of Hamilton’s routes.

Though Hamilton Bus Lines, at this point in time, no longer has contracts with STSCO, they still plan on doing field trips for local schools and continue on as a scaled down operation.

Attridge said, “We’re certainly going to be running at a reduced size. We are going to continue on. We have a number of other customers and commitments in the area. We do a lot of field trips for a lot of schools and we do an excellent job of that and we’re going to keep going. The new operator that’s coming into town and has to find 100 bus drivers between now and the start of school, I don’t wish badly on them but that’s an enormous challenge that I don’t think, unfortunately, anyone can be successful at. So we’re going to hold out. Some of our drivers are going to stick with us and we hope that come September the school board will reach out to us and ask us to put some buses back on.”

Attridge said that their bus drivers are kind of like free agents as they hold their bus license and can work for any company. However for those looking to stay on with them, they are doing the best they can to secure work for them in September.

“There are a few independent schools in the area, and we also do some work for Trent University between their two campuses, and again, the field trips. We’ve also got opportunities if the bus drivers are really looking for work, we have opportunities for them in the GTA so we can bring them in on a temporary basis to say Toronto, as we have a lot of growth in that region coming up this September.”

Attridge also said they are in discussions with their other employees such as mechanics as they will still need to fix their busses, just at a reduced capacity.

He said, “I just want people to know that we’re still here. We’re going to keep fighting for our company to grow and be successful. It’s a real punch in the gut, but what can we do? We’re not going to just lie down. I mean, we’re going to keep going so… thank you to all of our drivers who’ve been so loyal.”

When asked if this change would affect bus route times for students getting to and from school, Wierenga said that STSCO is now planning routes for September and there is no anticipated impact to ride times.

Wierenga also said that WAT is currently finalizing the purchase of a property in Peterborough County to support their bus routes and is also currently securing parking and service agreements for their buses to comply with the obligations of the new contract.

He said, “We want to reassure families that your children’s bus routes will continue to be operated by drivers that have been hired locally and are part of our communities. Also, we would like to note that all new contracts require all operators to set up local facilities to service their bus routes. STSCO will be working closely with all bus companies over the summer months to monitor their preparedness for September start-up and we are committed to sharing updates as we prepare for another school year.”

For more information on student transportation, please visit stsco.ca.