Expect disruptions: STEO and bus companies ‘very far apart’ on negotiations

by Joseph Coppolino - EAP
Expect disruptions: STEO and bus companies ‘very far apart’ on negotiations
It is possible parents will be driving their kids to and from school at the start of the new school year as the consortium representing the UCDSB and CDSBEO and representatives for the bus companies have yet to reach an agreement on compensation. (Photo : file)

Parents are likely on the hook for school drop-offs and pick-ups as the Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario and the bus companies providing the service have yet to come to a compensation agreement for the school year starting September 5.

Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO), a not-for-profit consortium which provides bus service for more than 30,000 students in the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) and the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), has been in negotiations with the bus companies since March of this year to secure transport services for the 2023-2024 school year.

On August 21, STEO released a statement warning of a likely disruption to school bus services come the start of classes.

According to STEO, a multi-year offer “that exceeded the rate of inflation” was rejected by the bus companies on August 19. STEO claims the offer surpassed driver recruitment and retention bonuses, but the operators’ counterproposal “far exceeds the funding available to school boards for transportation.”

“The school bus companies rejected this offer and responded with a counteroffer that far exceeds the funding available,” said STEO in a statement to parents. “This response demonstrates a significant gap between the parties, that the school boards cannot bridge without removing funds from the classroom.”

In April 2023, the Ontario government projected more than $1.2 billion in transportation grants for Ontario school boards. The UCDSB will receive more than $36 million, and the CSDBEO can expect just over $21 million.

In a new statement released August 25, STEO stated their offer of an additional $19 million over five years was countered by the bus companies at $40 million over five years.

«None of these actions are consistent with a partner trying to reach an agreement and resume services,» read the STEO statement.

Though optimistic they can come to an agreement, general manager of STEO Janet Murray said the parties are “very far apart with respect to the overall compensation

Should no agreement be finalized, STEO will not be able to provide alternative transportation and parents and students will need to make their own arrangements until STEO service returns.

The STEO stated that it is looking at other options to deal with student transport needs for the CDSBEO and UCDSB during the start of the new school year in September.

In a statement released August 25, STEO said they went forward with an «emergency limited tendering for routes that may require service.» Existing and other school bus companies can bid for the one-year contracts which include a 13 per cent increase in addition to «continued protection against fuel increases and incentives.»

STEO also said they removed bus companies’ access to the school bus routing service to protect the «privacy and integrity» of students.

Roxborough Bus Lines, which provides bus services in Clarence-Rockland and the surrounding area, did not return an EAP request for comment before press time.

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