Nova Scotia

Province terminates Halifax school bus contract with Stock

Education Minister Zach Churchill has fired Stock Transportation as the bus company contracted to carry students to and from school in the Halifax area.

Transportation company 'deeply disappointed' in decision to end 10-year deal

The provincial government has terminated its agreement with Stock Transportation for service in Halifax. Stock will operate bus service for one more year under terms of the contract. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government has informed Stock Transportation its services are no longer needed to carry school children to and from school in the Halifax region starting in 2020.

The move, announced Thursday by Nova Scotia's Minister of Education Zach Churchill, ends a 10-year contract between Stock and the former Halifax Regional School Board.

"This change, I believe, has been a long time coming," Churchill told reporters in Halifax Thursday.

"After numerous serious customer service issues this past fall and winter, our staff, and staff with the [Halifax Regional Centre for Education], held the weekly accountability meetings with Stock Transportation, their management," said the minister. "And despite repeated attempts to prevent resolve issues, these issues continued to happen."

He said those issues impacted students.

"This is completely unacceptable, in my estimation, for families who depend on bus service to safely and reliably deliver their kids to and from school."

But not long after the minister left the briefing, Elwin LeRoux, the HRCE regional executive director of education, told reporters Stock drivers were almost always able to get children to and from school on time, as per the contract, after the province paid $1.9 million to provide the company more buses.

"The expectation to Stock was that there be a 95 per cent on-time arrival and in most cases they met that," he said.

The problem, he said, was a disagreement between the province and the company over the meaning of "on time."

LeRoux said the contract language didn't spell that out precisely enough. 

Zach Churchill announced the decision to end the deal with Stock. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Patrick Meagher, Stock's director for Atlantic Canada, stated in an email to CBC the company was "deeply disappointed with the government of Nova Scotia's abrupt decision"

Meagher also offered a message to parents.

"We assure parents of the 23,000 children under our care that we will continue to maintain the highest level of service and safety standards throughout the remainder of our contract," he said. 

The company is also refuting the suggestion it wasn't able to deliver good service.

"In 2019, these stats reveal on-time delivery of students has ranged from 96.8% in the worst weeks of winter weather to 99.3% last week.

"We are proud of our employees' performance, our investments and service improvements and look forward to continuing to provide students and parents in the HRM with a safe, reliable service they can count on. [We] look forward to the opportunity to have our safety and on-time delivery record act as the standard by which the new system is judged."

The decision comes only three years into that contract. That deal allowed for a termination with a year of notice, which is why Stock will continue with its service for 2019-20 school year.

The province will be looking for another company, or companies, to take over the service. The request for proposals will allow companies to bid to service portions of the territory, rather than all of the municipality.

The minister said he based his decision on a survey conducted on his department's behalf that suggested families were happy with service outside Halifax, but those within the municipality had concerns about safety, routing, scheduling and communications.

Claudia Chender, the NDP's education critic, agreed, in part, with the government stepping in.

"We're happy to see action on this," she said. "Whether it's the right action, time will tell."

Counterpart Tim Halman of the PCs is also offering cautious support for what the minister has done. "The bottom line is we need to see change in this area," he said. 

Jason MacLean represents the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Union leader Jason MacLean was more concerned.

The union he heads, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, represents 391 monitors, bus drivers and mechanics who work for Stock.

"I have members that are messaging me, emailing me and asking me what is their future?" he told reporters after the news conference.

He suggested most found out first from CBC. 

MacLean also disputed the claim by Churchill that the province would not have to pay Stock compensation for ending the contract early.

"I did talk to the employer and what they're saying is it's going to cost a lot of money for the province to get out of this contract because they haven't violated this contract," he said.

Stock's contracts in Nova Scotia outside of HRCE remain intact.

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