Lost contract means staff cuts inevitable: bus company

Photo: ODT files
Go Bus operates 300 school bus routes across the country, in Otago, Southland, Canterbury, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Poverty Bay and Hawke’s Bay. Photo: ODT files
A small school bus operator will have to slash staff numbers after a lucrative government contract was awarded to a national company.

Go Bus is set to double its school bus services after it was selected by the Ministry of Education to deliver expanded bus services across the country for a 12-year period.

But their win is another’s loss, as a local Otago bus operator says it will inevitably lose staff.

Otago Road Services manager Brent Sutherland said staff level changes were "inevitable", due to the loss of contracts.

The company had operated a bus service to schools in coastal Otago for several decades, including daily services and technology transfers to schools across the Taieri Plain, Lee Stream and the Strath Taieri area.

Go Bus operates 300 school bus routes across the country, in Otago, Southland, Canterbury, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Poverty Bay and Hawke’s Bay.

Director of business development Russell Turnbull said 62 of those were Ministry of Education routes across Otago and Southland, and 20 were non-Ministry of Education routes in Southland.

However, the expanded contract, which begins on January 2022, allows the number of Go Bus school routes to more than double across the country to 623.

Go Bus operations in Otago will increase to 117 ministry school bus routes and 75 in Southland.

The new contract will add 379 vehicles to its school fleet nationally, but Mr Turnbull said Go Bus had not yet determined how many of those would be added to the Otago and Southland fleets.

Asked if there were concerns about the effects on local bus companies, Mr Turnbull said it was not appropriate for Go Bus to comment.

"What we did was put our best foot forward in the tender on the quality of our systems, our driver welfare standards and the service we offer, and of course at a reasonable price."

The company would ask current bus drivers to register their interest in driving for Go Bus.

Mr Sutherland said he was "disappointed" the company was unsuccessful in attempts to retain those contracts.

“A tender process always produces winners and losers, and it is unfortunate to be on the losing side this time."

It meant the company would lose staff.

‘‘Staff level changes are inevitable with the contract loss, with some staff choosing to retire at the end of the year and, as is the norm with these contracts, some staff may move across to the new company operating the services,’’ Mr Sutherland said.

The company would also be assessing the viability of its remaining commercial school bus operations in Dunedin city.

Those services had already been ‘‘significantly’’ affected by Covid-19 and changes in the Otago Regional Council fare policies over the last year, he said.

The council has been trialling a $2 flat fare on Dunedin buses since last September.

It is understood Winton company McDermotts Coachlines, which has operated school bus routes around Southland for more than 40 years, has also lost a significant number of its school bus routes.

The company declined to comment.

molly.houseman@odt.co.nz

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