Nearly one million Ontario families rely on school buses to get kids to school and home safely and on time each day. Ensuring a successful student transportation industry starts with creating a positive and safe busing experience for children and youth. Over the years, government demands for school bus service providers have increased costs much faster than funding has risen, and now this latest cost increase has pushed the system to the brink of failure.
In Ontario student transportation is determined through a government led competitive procurement process. Before the procurement process, local boards dealt primarily with local operators and negotiated contracts based on a local consensus.
The introduction of a competitive RFP procurement process initiated by the Ontario government has generated decisions towards lowest priced bids for many contracts in Ontario. As noted in the Student Transportation Competitive Procurement Review Report by former Justice Colin Campbell in 2015, the single RFP process might not sufficiently take into account the dynamics of local markets in a way that assures viable, sustainable competition.
The report also notes that price should not be the exclusive consideration in such a diverse and complex industry.
Student transportation is underfunded
Government funding levels have not kept pace with rising costs of operating student transportation and are inadequate for a vital public service.
Driver wages and the cost of school bus vehicles and parts take up the biggest portion of contract fees paid by school boards/transportation consortia to school bus service providers.
While a competitive procurement process contributes to accountability, it has also led to processes and outcomes that mistakenly focus on achieving lowest possible costs which inadvertently result in pressure on school bus driver wages seeing as this is the single largest cost of school bus operations.
Unforeseen minimum wage hike adds another layer of challenges
Busing contracts determine years in advance what school bus service providers are paid for ensuring kids get to school safely.
Unlike other service providers, who can manage the new minimum wage by raising prices, school bus operators are bound by long term contracts that never contemplated the 22 percent wage increase now planned by the Wynne government for January 1, 2018, and a further increase in January 2019.