|Hundreds of Bus Routes Flipped Under RFP System in Toronto Area
Article By: Canadian Labour Reporter
Article Date: March 14, 2016
Union calls for consistency in contract procurement
The contracts for more than 450 Toronto-area bus routes were flipped in late February as part of the province’s request for proposals (RFP) system.
But the system will lead to instability for drivers, parents and — especially concerning — students, said Unifor, Ontario’s largest school bus driver union.
“This isn’t developing a stronger service,” said Unifor researcher Angelo DiCaro. “The system is just getting weaker and weaker.”
Pilot RFPs were implemented throughout the province beginning in 2009, with a full transition to the RFP system required in time for the 2013-14 school year. The mandate came from the Ministry of Education in an effort to have school boards adhere to the public sector procurement directive.
The broader public sector procurement directive requires all publicly funded contracts over $100,000 to incorporate some form of competitive procurement.
Transportation consortia comprised of multiple school boards were established and tasked with the procurement of school bus contracts through the RFP system.
Prior to the system, school bus contracts were managed by school boards and the contracts were, essentially, evergreen contracts.
“As long as there really wasn’t a problem with the contractor, the contractor would keep getting the work from the school boards,” DiCaro said.
“School bus drivers would have some sense of stability. Although the jobs have always been challenging and precarious, there was never a threat that, every few years, they would basically tender these transportation contracts under a competitive framework.”
By requiring service providers to bid on bus routes, DiCaro said, it is believed monopolies will be prevented and the spirit of competition will result in more cost-efficient services.
“Our concern is when you create a system like this — which is basically based on the spirit of competitive procurement and trying to keep bids low so that your costs aren’t soaring — this will directly affect the bus drivers,” he said.
“For a company to manage their cost structure, they’re going to suppress wages. And that’s what we’re seeing.”
According to the union, there is no guarantee drivers affected by routes flipped under the RFP system will see their position transferred over to the new provider. And even if the drivers are hired on by the new provider, it is likely they would lose any gains made with their previous employer.
“They’re essentially going to be resetting back to when they started,” DiCaro said.
“If they made wage increases over time, they’ll likely be back at minimum wage with no benefits, no seniority and, in five years, we’re going to do it all over again. Our biggest concern is that while the province is really gung-ho about this competitive bidding system, they have totally neglected the impact this is going to have on drivers.”
Drivers, students play role
The needs of drivers and students play a large role in the RFP system, according to Kevin Hodgkinson, general manager of the Toronto Student Transportation Group.
“The whole point of the process is to be fair and transparent,” Hodgkinson said. “The RFP is based 55 per cent on price and 45 per cent on other qualitative factors, which include safety programs, communication protocols and accident reporting.”
Based on information from carriers, Hodgkinson said, as many as 80 per cent of existing drivers on recently flipped routes will be moving over to new carriers to continue providing service.
“In terms of consistency, we like to see the same driver doing the same routes because they’re familiar with the area and the roads, with the students, with the schools and their policies,” Hodgkinson said.
“Driver-wise, we’re not as concerned because we’ve found drivers move between companies as far as contracts go.”
Unifor, however, is arguing the assumption that drivers will be pulled over to new carriers is not enough. The union is calling for a mechanism that would protect drivers’ wages by removing them from the RFP system.
“Take wages out of the competitive framework,” DiCaro said. “If they want companies to compete, that’s fine. They can find other creative ways to find efficiencies. But that shouldn’t come at the expense of people’s wages.”
According to the Ontario School Bus Association (OSBA), however, driver wages are the single largest expense with respect to student transportation contracts.
“It’s important to understand that roughly 50 per cent of every dollar that is spent in transportation in Ontario in the contracts themselves goes back out in wages to drivers, mechanics and support staff,” said Les Cross, president of the OSBA.
While it would likely be difficult to remove wages from the RFP system altogether, Cross said other provinces using the RFP system have introduced a wage floor to create consistency for drivers moving to different carriers.
“I don’t think anybody should be winning a contract on the backs of labour and the RFP process itself does give us the opportunity right now to reset the bar with respect to driver wages,” Cross said.
“It’s going to be important for the new carriers to establish a fair wage that they’re going to be able to sustain.”
DiCaro agreed that sustainability is a huge concern moving forward, as the union works toward creating an environment that fosters consistency.
“Children taking the bus, they develop a relationship with that driver. There’s a trust factor that’s built into this contract. The parents send their kids off to school and they expect they’re going to arrive at school safely,” DiCaro said.
“Having that friendly, familiar face on the bus — it may sound a bit romanticized — but I’ll tell you, as a parent myself of young kids, that means everything to me. The idea that the person who is charged with delivering the most precious cargo we’ve got, in our kids, that we treat them so poorly, I don’t understand that.”
|Planning of 2016 OASBO Pupil Transportation Conference
OASBO has commenced development of their 2016 OASBO Pupil Transportation Conference Oct. 26-28, 2016. The conference will be held at Blue Mountain Resort, Collingwood, Ontario.
The OASBO Conference Planning Committee is once again looking for amazing presentations around student safety in order to keep the conference viable. OASBO would appreciate session ideas and topics from OSBA members. Organization of the agenda and speakers is commencing by the last week of March. If you could send your ideas/suggestions to Wendy Dobson - email@example.com by March 21st, it would be much appreciated.
The Planning Committee has a few initial suggestions as follows, although these are not yet finalized:
- Crisis Communication (was cancelled at the last conference due to an emergency with the presenter)
- Blow By School Buses
- Key Performance Indicators (very well attended at the last conference and has been asked by several people to bring it back again)
- Innovative Programs/Processes between School Bus Operators and Consortia
- AG Report – focuses on school bus safety – perhaps MTO to see what progress is made with recommendations
- Contract Performance Management – what consortia will be looking for when conducting school bus operator division audits – also part of the AG Report recommendations
For any questions, comments, ideas, suggestions, please contact Wendy Dobson firstname.lastname@example.org or 519-824-4119 Ext 222.
|Weather Stations in Bus Yards Help Guide Ontario Operation
Article By: School Bus Fleet (Seaforth, ON)
Article Date: March 2, 2016
Huron Perth Student Transportation Services recently dealt with snow, hail, freezing rain and rain — and that was just in one day.
With a service area of about 5,500 square kilometers (about 2,120 square miles) along the banks of the massive Lake Huron, weather variations are an influential factor in the daily operations of the Seaforth-based transportation consortium.
Even as he spoke with School Bus Fleet during an interview in late February, Huron Perth General Manager David Frier was getting a flurry of electronic updates on weather changes in the region.
Access to accurate meteorological information has proven to be so critical to Huron Perth that the transportation consortium has installed its own weather stations at bus yards across two counties. The stations, supplied by Schneider Electric, have helped fill the gaps in the weather data from Environment Canada that Huron Perth had been relying on — and had often found to be far different from actual conditions.
Huron Perth Student Transportation Services is a consortium of two school systems: the Avon Maitland District School Board and the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board. Five contractors operate 343 school buses for the consortium, transporting about 12,500 students per day in the Huron and Perth counties.
The five contractors have a total of 10 bus yards throughout the region, and temperature and weather conditions can vary significantly from one location to the next. Also, some of the bus yards are far from the nearest official forecast stations.
“We were noticing some variations from what Environment Canada was giving us for each of those areas and what we were actually seeing on the ground,” Frier said.
As an example, one day the official report said it was minus 20 Celsius (minus 4 Fahrenheit), but the school bus operators were seeing minus 32 Celsius (minus 26 Fahrenheit) on their thermometers.
Huron Perth Student Transportation Services worked with Schneider Electric to install weather stations at the bus operators’ facilities, starting with five stations in the summer of 2014 and adding another four last summer.
Sherri Carstens, senior weather sales consultant for Schneider Electric, said that the weather data from those stations feeds into an online platform that Frier and the bus operators can access from their computers or mobile devices, and they can have customized alerts sent to them. The localized readings, taken by professional-grade sensors, include temperature, precipitation, heat/humidity and wind speed.
Those stats help transportation and school officials make determinations about bus service and school closures.
“I provide information to the school boards when they're considering whether to keep schools open or closed," Frier said. "I don’t make the decision to close schools, but I make the decision with operators about whether to run [the buses] that day or not.”
One of those operators is Murphy Bus Lines, whose Rob Murphy introduced Huron Perth to Schneider Electric's WeatherSentry Online forecasts.
"Living between the Great Lakes of Ontario, we deal with fog, snow and freezing rain, and the assistance of WeatherSentry forecasts is very valuable as we are transporting precious cargo," Murphy said.
The precise weather data is particularly vital in the winter — when frigid temperatures can cause diesel to gel, or strong wind combined with falling snow can create whiteouts — but it’s also essential for other times of the year when heavy fog can threaten visibility.
“We rely on it year-round,” Frier said. “In the early morning, we’ll assess whether to run the buses, or to go on a delay. The additional information and the quality of the information from the weather stations is helping us to make those calls.”
|'Driving Education' - 2016 CPTC Conference
The Canadian Pupil Transportation Conference (CPTC) is fast approaching. There’s still time to register!
This years event, "Driving Education" has assembled a diverse group of leading edge keynote speakers and presenters. There will also be ample time for networking opportunities, and product/services ideas at the trade show.
Visit these OSBA Members who are conference sponsors:
For more information about the conference, visit: http://www.cptc2016.ca/
Valuable Business Sessions at OTE 2016
The Ontario Transportation Expo (OTE) is just around the corner – April 24-27 – and there are a number of powerful business sessions designed specifically for the school bus industry. Full or daily registration is available. Early-bird registration and hotel cut-off date is April 1, 2016. Educational sessions include the following:
- Plenary – Autonomous Vehicles
- The Hon. Colin Campbell – Improving Bus Operator – Consortia Relationships in a Competitive Environment
- Substance Abuse, Random Testing and Your Organization’s Alcohol and Drug Policy
- Making Sense of Criminal Background Checks
- The Hon. Mitzie Hunter, Associate Minister of Finance – Ontario’s Proposed Pension Plan – What it Means to Bus Operators
- Ask a Lawyer – Common Employment and Human Resources Issues Facing Bus Companies
- Business Transitions and Succession Planning – Improving the Value of Your Company
- MTO Carrier & Safety Enforcement Branch Update
- Partners in Success – Insurance and Bus Companies
- OSBA Annual General Meeting
- Three Point Belts on School Buses
- Developing Talent from Within Your Own Organization
- Charged with an HTA Offence? Know Your Rights & Options with MTO, Police and the Courts
- School Bus Markings and the New CSA D250-16 Standard
- How Ontario’s Distracted Driving Laws Apply to Bus Drivers
- MTO Driver Certification Program (DCP) – Key Issues Update
|P.R.I.D.E. Recertification Programs
Another successful P.R.I.D.E. Recertification Program was conducted on Sat. Mar. 12/16. According to participants, the program was: “Very impressive and a wonderful refresher for our skills” and “Well organized and informative.” Upcoming Recertification Programs will be held Apr. 28, Jun. 22, Sept. 28 and Nov. 23 at the Admiral Inn Burlington. Registration information can be viewed at the following link: http://www.osba.on.ca/pride-recertification For those who may have received a notice from MTO regarding “Air Brake Instructor Recertification Training”, there was a glitch in the MTO system which has now been rectified. Air Brake Instructor Recertification training will not be required until after Jan. 1, 2017 or beyond. Air brake instructor “refresher” training (not mandatory by MTO), is currently available from the Ontario Safety League.
|Coping With Student Emergencies and Employee Relations
Article By: School Transportation News, (Louisville, KY)
Article Date: March 13, 2016
The third day of the TSD Conference covered an array of topics — some to the benefit of transportation departments busing special needs students, while others worked to the advantage of transportation directors handling employee relations.
All of them, though, were connected by a significant thread, the idea of transparent communication.
The day kicked off with an early-morning general session titled "Rescue Medications on the School Bus." Dr. Joseph O’Neill, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis, led the discussion that examined a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics on the application of seizure medication outside of a medical setting.
O’Neill, who was also a reviewer of the Rescue Medicine for Epilepsy in the Educational Setting and the primary author for the national statement on the safe transportation of children with disabilities on school buses, broadened the topic to beyond seizures in order to “give guidance on how to best handle school bus emergencies."
First and foremost, O’Neill emphasized the importance that every child with special needs who rides the bus must have an emergency action plan for the wide range of ailments they may suffer from, including how to administer medication that respects their dignity and privacy.
Whether the condition is a food allergy or a seizure, a detailed, individualized plan must be written out explicably and precisely so that everyone involved in the child’s life has a clear understanding of what to do in case of an emergency.
O’Neill also stressed the value of planning for a number of contingencies and to be sure to include the child in on the discussion. “The devil is in the details,” said O’Neill. “Put the child first and the condition second.”
After laying out the groundwork for managing a number of urgent situations that can occur on a school bus, O’Neill opened the session to the panel that included Angela McDonald, a registered nurse with the Kentucky Department of Education, Sue Shutrump, an occupational physical therapist, and Cheryl Wolf, a special needs transportation consultant.
All three pointed out just how essential open communication is to the safety of special needs students during an emergency to “make sure everyone is on the same page,” said McDonald.
This extends support staff on both transportation and academic levels in an effort to “build a collaboration of communication…to give them the tools to do their jobs,” said Wolf.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, but equally as crucial to effectively running a successful transportation department is "Hiring and Firing Employees…Confidentially and Legally," an afternoon workshop led by certified HR consultant Grace Kelly of the law firm RC Kelly & Associates near Philadelphia.
Like the previous seminar, the discussion highlighted the significance of communication, especially in regards to a clear grasp of employee responsibilities and expectations, as well as goals for the position.
Without them in place a “real disconnect” can be created that allows problems to fester and directors to “put up with things that you’d normally not put up with,” said Kelly.
Kelly hit upon a number of laws on the books that protect employees from harassment, discrimination and bullying, and underscored the reality that “as soon as they walk through the door, they are yours.”
As for the termination of employees, Kelly imparted the advice that the removal be based on fact and detailed documentation, as opposed to emotion, believing that directors should “suspend today, decide tomorrow.”
|Order Your OSBA Publications Now!
Visit the OSBA website at www.osba.on.ca and click on the "STORE" tab from the home page to order the following publications. Or click on the links below and go directly to the specific order form:
Once you have completed the necessary order form, scan/email your order to email@example.com or fax to 416-695-9977.