Nfld. & Labrador

'Certainly no surprise': School bus operator blames public tender act for faulty buses

A school bus operator in St. George's says he believes the Public Tender Act is to blame for the recent discovery of seven faulty buses.

Western Newfoundland bus operator Dave Callahan says government created a bidding war for tenders

Dave Callahan is a school bus operator in western Newfoundland who says he thinks the government has created a feeding-frenzy amongst operators who are already desperate. (CBC)

One school bus operator in western Newfoundland says he thinks the provincial government's Public Tender Act is to blame for the recent discovery of faulty school buses on the Avalon Peninsula.

Island Bus Services, a private company on contract with the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, had seven vehicles ordered off the road this month.

A spot inspection, ordered after one of its vehicles went off the road in Shea Heights three weeks ago, found some of the company's buses had faulty fuel and brake fluid hoses, with emergency exits that were seized shut.

"[It's] certainly no surprise," Dave Callahan, a school bus operator in St. George's, told CBC's Here and Now.

"I guess I knew that this was coming, I'm glad to have seen it like this rather than to have it proven when there's an accident, and children [are] hurt." 

Callahan, who is not involved with Island Bus Services, said school bus operators are in a marginalized position "as the result of a government-created bidding war."

"They created a feeding-frenzy amongst a bunch of already-desperate operators," he said.

"This operator [Island Bus Services] has been around for a while," Callahan said. "I can't say that he would choose to operate like this, but certainly knowing well and full the amount of money that he got into the contracts that he's operating on, and the parameters that he's operating under, yeah... I almost could have predicted [it]."

According to Callahan, it's extremely difficult to finance a school bus business, so many operators are forced to cut corners.

"I'm going to tell you something right now, you only found one. There's many more nightmare stories out there just like that operator," he said. 

"We are not finance-able. And under the Public Tender Act, there's absolutely zero motivation or zero ability to run a feasibly responsible and safe business."

In order to prevent something like this from happening again, Callahan said the government should negotiate with all the bus operators.

"The industry is focused now to go forward, to get a negotiated contract so we can make this industry safer," he said. "There's no other way." 

​The school district said the Island Bus Service's contract for Leary's Brook Junior High and Larkhall Academy had been suspended, but could be reinstated once those buses were repaired to standard and re-inspected.

With files from Here and Now