STEO and school bus operators reach tentative deal

by Joseph Coppolino - EAP
STEO and school bus operators reach tentative deal
STEO and the school bus operators have a possible agreement for the new school year. (Photo : file)

After a complicated few weeks, STEO is optimistic that students will be hopping on their big yellow buses to get to school come September 5.

Student Transportation of Eastern Ontario (STEO), a not-for-profit consortium that 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), and the Eastern Ontario Bus Operators Association (EOBOA) have reached a tentative agreetosecure transportation services for the next four years.

On August 21, STEO released a statement warning of a likely disruption to school bus services come the start of classes. STEO released another statement four days later on August 25, informing parents that the consortium 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 funding increase in addition to « continued protection against fuel increases and incentives. »

While some operators were procured, STEO said it was “uncertain about what transportation may look like at the start of the school year.”

As Monday evening, August 28, STEO and the bus operators have come to a tentative agreement. The statement from STEO said the deal offers operators, students and their families more long-term certainty.

“We are delighted to have reached an agreement with the school bus companies and to continue the positive relationships we have built over many years, for the foreseeable future,” stated STEO general manager Janet Murray.

“This has been a long process, but I know our drivers will be happy they will be out on the first day of school, greeting familiar faces and playing such an important role for kids across our communities,” added Frank Healey, president of Healey Transportation and spokesperson for the Eastern Ontario Bus Operators Association.

Negotiating since March

STEO and the bus operators have been negotiating a new agreement for nearly six months, since March 2023.

According to past communications from STEO, an offer of an additional $19 million over five years, part of a multi-year offer “that exceeded the rate of inflation”, was rejected by the bus companies on August 19. Operators countered with $40 million over the five-year period.

STEO claimed that its initial offer surpassed driver recruitment and retention bonuses, but the operators’ counterproposal far exceed the funding available to school boards for transportation.

No details have been released of the new four-year agreement.

Further details on bus operators access to transportation information will be shared once the agreement has been accepted and bus routes have been finalized, according to STEO.

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