Buses are getting students to school Wednesday, but private contractors say a dispute with the Newfoundland and Labrador government over the cost of meeting safety standards could take their vehicles off the road for good.
"It's money," said Robert Lundrigan, a spokesperson for the independent school bus operators' association. "We need to be able to provide a service that not only does government want, but all the children of the province deserve and all the parents should feel comfortable with."
Lundrigan said high safety standards mean high costs. But he said the province had not been enforcing those standards when contracts were signed with individual school bus companies.
The bus operators had considered not providing service this week over the dispute. But they decided against taking that action in the interests of safety, and the inconvenience it would've caused for students and their families.
Lundrigan said if the province is not willing to pay companies more for their services, some operators will go out of business.
"These contractors have been forced to give notice that they can no longer sustain this and, after an appropriate time, when the appropriate tendering is done, they will have to withdraw their service," he said.
Millions already spent, education minister says
Education Minister Clyde Jackman said the province already spends more than $47 million on busing, adding the companies must honour the deals they signed.
"These are contracted services, and once someone enters into a contract you are into a legal document and we certainly expect that the contractors will fulfill their commitment," Jackman said.
Lundrigan said if nothing changes bus operators may be forced to stop service on as many as 50 routes.
Jackman said if that happens the province may take operators to court to recover the additional cost of taking on those routes.