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Court finds Govt broke promise to consult with school bus industry - BCA

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A High Court judgement has found that the Ministry of Education (MOE) failed to consult with the bus and coach industry as promised with the latest school bus route tender process.

Bus and Coach Association (BCA) Chief Executive Dr Pim Borren said the industry was so concerned with the tender process it decided to pursue legal action to halt the tender and revise it. He said this is not the first tender process the Ministry has got drastically wrong.

The Auditor-General was highly critical of the Ministry’s 2008 tender process that saw almost half of New Zealand’s regional school bus operators disappear.

"This latest process is an absolute farce and blatantly unfair on some bus operators who cannot even defend their current business and are still struggling post-COVID-19," Borren said.

BCA on behalf of school bus operators lobbied Government to get the Ministry to rethink the tender process. While Judge Dobson did not grant an injunction to stop the tender going live, he criticised the MOE for their authoritarian approach; "my provisional view is that BCA clearly had tenable grounds for complaining that the Ministry failed to comply with numerous assurances that it would undertake meaningful consultation on the consequences for BCA members of the terms on which tenders for school bus services were to occur."

Borren says Government are showing an extreme lack of consistency within the transport sector with MOE ignoring the findings of the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM) review which is focused on improving emissions and bus driver wages; "how can Government justify allowing school buses to be 26 years old when industry supported 23 year maximums? They are taking a step backwards in the push for low emission school transport by supporting the use of an old diesel fleet.

"The proposed school bus tender also ignores the ongoing issue of poor driver wages. There is no weighting in the new tender model for operators that tender higher wage rates than others. MOE are effectively still running a ‘race to the bottom’ approach, rewarding routes to the lowest charging operators with continued downward pressure on driver wages and conditions which the PTOM review has recommended taking outside the tender process.

"If the Ministry proceeds with this tender process they will undermine many existing bus operators around the country, especially those provided by medium size operators in the regions who are stuck in the middle of both stages of the tender, and put the future of those local school bus services at risk."

This two-stage process is anti-competitive and breaches the Ministry’s own procurement rules and guidelines. School bus operators want to work with the Ministry to design a tender approach that works for all parties, but the Ministry did not want to engage, Borren said.

"We wanted to engage. We wanted to talk. We wanted to sit down with the Ministry to develop a process that’s workable, that’s fair for all operators, that doesn’t impact drivers."

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