School bus convoy heads to Queen’s Park to protest government process affecting small businesses in Ontario

Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, Friday, July 10, 2020, in Zelienople, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

A large convoy of school buses made its way to Queen’s Park on Tuesday to protest an Ontario government process, which, critics say, will hurt small businesses and force them to shut down.

The Tri-board School Bus Operators Association, which employs nearly 1,000 people, says an unfair request for proposal process (RFP) by the province is putting small businesses at risk, making it too difficult for them to compete for routes and secure deals with school boards.

The association said the request for proposal process is only favourable to large companies that have hundreds of schools buses across the province, and not helpful to smaller businesses serving local communities.

"My family's business has been a staple of the Belleville area since 1957," third-generation Parkhurst Transportation operator Sherry Barker said. "For more than 60 years, we’ve transported children to and from school safely and efficiently. But thanks to an unfair RFP process, we’re now at risk of losing it all.”

“This is exactly what happened recently to an independent operator in the Hamilton area, that served its community for over 50 years – they lost all their routes and their entire business.”

The small independent school bus operators say they are calling on Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce to make clear to school boards that there are alternatives to the RFP and to temporarily suspend the process.

"For decades, we worked with school boards on the principles of goodwill, trust and cooperation to make sure the community's needs came first," Barker said in a news release on Tuesday.

"Now they’re using an unfair RFP process that ignores the government’s own recommendations and makes it impossible for local businesses to compete. We don't stand a chance."

Colin Campbell, retired Justice of the Ontario Superior Court, examined the issues with the RFP in 2015, and made several recommendations on how to make the process fairer.

The Tri-board School Bus Operators Association said in a news release on Tuesday if school boards decide to issue an RFP then that process must comply with the recommendations made by Campbell. 

In response, the Ontario Ministry of Education provided CTV News Toronto with a statement on the issue. 

“We are committed to ensuring Ontario’s students receive safe, dependable transportation to and from the classroom, in a way that recognizes the unique needs of communities across our province, while encouraging responsible parties to work together and achieve solutions quickly," spokesperson Caitlin Clark said on Tuesday.