A throng of independent school bus operators cheered outside Belleville’s superior court Thursday after Justice Robert Scott signed an order quashing a brewing legal beef between operators and a trio of area school boards.
“The tension is gone,” said Rolland Montgomery, owner of Montgomery School Transit Ltd, moments after hearing the outcome. “We can get back to doing business. It’s going to send a clear message to all the other boards.”
Tri-Board Student Transportation Services suddenly withdrew its unpopular tender process amid Thursday’s court hearing, apparently bowing to legal pressure from operators to block the Oct. 31 deadline.
Operators have claimed the procurement process is unfair, saying it would pit smaller and medium sized entities against larger firms, who have the financial leverage to underbid in order to acquire routes and drive them out of business.
Shelby MacPherson, owner of County Bus Services Ltd, called Thursday’s decision a victory for operators who fretted for weeks about losing routes some had serviced for years. Continued amicable relations with the board now weighs heavily on negotiations for upcoming contract renewals.
“There’s a little bit of a fight left to negotiate a contract,” she said.
MacPherson is banking on results here to set a precedent for similar cases across Ontario, where operators are still facing new procurement arrangements like the one opposed here.
The issue landed before Scott after 15 local busing entities launched a lawsuit against Tri-Board over its contract-awarding RFP process.
Steve Wowk, CEO of Tri-Board, said his entity will be reverting to current agreements with the 55 operators serving the local boards.
Wowk said the procurement formula used to ink future deals will hinge on the boards position under government guidance.
“In the meantime, we will be evaluating the RFP process to see if that’s where we want to go,” he said.
Wowk said he was pleased the legal heat has somewhat calmed, giving Tri-Board and the operators an opportunity to retain the status quo.
Operators will now work to cement deals for the upcoming year for all existing routes.
Wowk hinted the possibilities of a court battle remains on the table, but for now they have opted to kill the recently introduced RFP process until further review.
There is no indication that the cordial relationship between involved parties will be strained, Wowk said.
“I don’t hold grudges,” he said.
Ted Boldrick, owner of Tweed’s Boldrick Bus Lines, agreed it’s time to “get back to business,” but had some lingering apprehension about ongoing relations considering that the RFP process remains on Tri-Board’s agenda.
“It’s over for now,” Boldrick said. “There are other battles that will pop up.”