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‘We’ve learned our lessons’: Former sole school bus provider responds to concerns in HRM

Click to play video 'Former sole school bus provider responds to concerns in Halifax' Former sole school bus provider responds to concerns in Halifax
WATCH: This is Nova Scotia’s first year where busing hasn't been monopolized by one provider. As Graeme Benjamin reports, the company formerly known as Stock Transportation is staying focused on their responsibilities – Sep 18, 2020

The company that once held a monopoly on student bus services in the Halifax Regional Municipality says some of the issues parents have brought forward this year are concerning.

Darryl Amirault with National Passenger Services – formerly known as Stock Transportation – says there has been a lot of change over the past year and half, but the company continues to look forward.

“I took over the company a couple years ago to make the changes, to rebrand ourselves, to have a new beginning here in the community,” said Amirault. “Your brand’s got to be strong, you’ve got to be known in the community, and you’ve got to have people in the community.

It was in June 2019 when the Nova Scotia government terminated its contract with the then-Stock Transportation, and issued a proposal request for a new one.

READ MORE: 3 companies awarded contracts to provide Halifax school bus service

The decision ended a 10-year contract between Stock and the former Halifax Regional School Board. At the time, it was in its third year.

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Back in February, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education announced it would split its bus services between three companies – National Passenger Services, Southland Transportation, as well as Student Transportation of Canada.

Amirault says that was a difficult time for the company, but also an opportunity to learn.

“It’s opened our eyes up to what competition is like here,” he said. “We’re fighting for that same block of space when it comes to the driver recruitment component, and that’s probably the biggest challenge.”

Click to play video 'N.S. government terminates contract with Stock Transportation, addresses complaints' N.S. government terminates contract with Stock Transportation, addresses complaints
N.S. government terminates contract with Stock Transportation, addresses complaints – Jun 6, 2019

In the first week and a half of the contract going into effect, busing concerns remain. Parents said in first few days of school, buses in the HRM were showing up late, or not at all.

On Monday, a family in Hammonds Plains said their three-year-old daughter, who attends pre-primary in the area, wasn’t dropped off at school and was found on the bus in a different community.

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READ MORE: Hammonds Plains parents furious after daughter left on bus, found in Lower Sackville

Amirault says that shows the importance of child-check protocols being followed day in and day out.

“That scared the living daylights to me. That can never happen to us. That can never be a position, where we leave a child on a bus,” he said.

In a Thursday cabinet meeting, Education Minister Zach Churchill insisted that busing service across the province is still going according to plan.

“I’ve been minister for three years now, this has been the smoothest start to busing in Halifax and the HRM area,” Churchill said.

Click to play video 'Musqudoboit Valley parents call for better busing' Musqudoboit Valley parents call for better busing
Musqudoboit Valley parents call for better busing – Sep 17, 2020

However, NDP Leader Gary Burrill says that can’t be true if the number of concerns from parents, and how many complaints have come forward, is considered.

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“I think what it counts for is a deep disattachment and out-of-touchness by the government as a whole,” Burrill said Thursday.

Amirault says National Passenger Services is going to continue looking forward and provide safe busing for the children they’re responsible for.

“Communication is a big thing. And these are things that we’ve learned over the years that we’ve made mistakes in,” Amirault said.

“We’ve learned our lessons, we’ve learned them well.”