3 different companies hired to bus Halifax-area students starting this fall
Stock Transportation, which has faced criticism, gets special-needs contract
The Halifax Regional Centre for Education is hiring three different transportation companies to provide bus services for students across the region starting this fall.
The change comes after mounting concerns with Stock Transportation, which previously held the contract and had been criticized for poor communication with parents and reliability issues.
It is one of the three companies selected and will be tasked with providing transportation for special-needs students beginning in September 2020.
"I think we've proven over the last eight months that we're making steps in the right direction," Pat Meagher, Stock's director for Atlantic Canada, said Thursday. "We've made some huge changes. We brought in some transportation specialists from different parts of Canada and Nova Scotia."
Last June, the province announced it was terminating Stock's 10-year contract three years into the deal, and the school bus service was put out to tender a month later.
Meagher said Stock had bid on covering all the routes again. "We were hoping for more. We're happy with what we got," he said.
The Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) said it is confident Stock's changes will prevent the problems of the past from occurring again.
"We have heard that a couple of years ago, the service delivery standard wasn't OK," said Elwin LeRoux, the executive director of HRCE.
He said with the new contracts, the regional centre will be building the routes, and parents will be contacting them if they have issues, instead of the bus companies directly.
Student Transportation of Canada and Southland Transportation have also been contracted to transport students beginning in September. Both are seeking to hire drivers currently employed by Stock.
"A lot of drivers get attached to their children and know the parents well," said Murray Glass, who works with Southland. "If they want to stay on the runs, as long as they meet our criteria, we're more than happy to bring them onboard."
He points out his company has been in business for 60 years in the western provinces.
"Our minimum threshold that we strive for is 99.5 per cent preventable on time," he said. "By preventable, I mean we can't control the weather, or if there's traffic jams due to collisions and issues like that."
Chris Harwood, president of Student Transportation, said his company has been "intrigued" by the Halifax market for some time.
"I am confident that we're going to be able to do this. In no way are we taking it lightly. However, we have done this before in similar and even larger-sized markets."
Student Transportation of Canada will provide service to the family of schools connected to Citadel High, Duncan MacMillan, Eastern Shore, Halifax West, J.L. Ilsley, Millwood, Lockview, Musquodoboit Rural and Sir John A. Macdonald.
Southland Transportation will provide service for the family of schools connected to Auburn High, Bedford, Forsyth Education Centres, Charles P. Allen, Cole Harbour District, Dartmouth High, Island View, Prince Andrew and Sackville High.
It's unknown yet if the two new companies will unionize their employees. Stock's drivers are currently members of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.
Union president Jason MacLean said he's been talking to Southland and Student Transportation, and hopes to have answers for his members soon.
Another change will be that communication will be led by HRCE, so parents will no longer have to contact the bus companies with questions and concerns.
The contracts are for five years, with the option of extending them for an additional two.
The projected cost could save HRCE $631,000, but there are many variables that could drive it up.
Busing through the remainder of this school year will continue to be provided by Stock.