Takhini Transport is back behind the wheel of the Yukon’s school buses.
The company was awarded a five-year contract worth almost $14 million to run school bus service in Whitehorse and the territory’s communities.
Takhini under-bid the incumbent contractor, Standard Bus Contracting, by $1 million.
This is the second time Takhini has been awarded a five-year contract. The last time, the contract was terminated in its fourth year and a two-year contract was awarded to Standard because Takhini couldn’t cover the cost of rising fuel prices.
Takhini’s owner, Ernie Jamieson, said he’s confident that won’t happen again.
“There’s a fuel clause in the contract. It’s complicated,” he said, declining to explain further.
But trouble with fuel costs wasn’t the only pothole that Takhini has faced in the past.
Three years ago, the company had maintenance problems with its fleet in Dawson City, according to one of the company’s drivers. She reported at the time that radios weren’t working, one bus had starter problems and another had to be restarted frequently. After that driver complained about repeated diesel leaks and refused to drive what she said was an unsafe bus, she was fired.
Jamieson insisted that those issues had nothing to do with maintenance.
“No, that was driver issues. You can believe anything you want, but that was a driver issue, not a maintenance issue,” Jamieson said.
When asked what assurances the company could provide that it won’t have similar problems this time around, Jamieson replied, “How do you know what a driver’s going to do? Nobody does.
“We had beautiful maintenance. With our maintenance program I was running at 92 per cent, and that’s with the Yukon government coming in and inspecting my buses twice a year. It’s as good as it gets right across Canada. You run into people that are the issues,” he said.
Jamieson said he has ordered a brand new fleet of International buses. Once Takhini takes over the busing contracts in July, it will have 54 buses on the road and another seven or eight in reserve, Jamieson said.
The bidding process required that the Department of Education award the busing contract to the lowest bidder, said department spokesman Chris Madden.
“Contractors were asked to break their bids down into fixed annual costs, plus fixed cost per bus per year, plus variable cost per bus per kilometre. The low bid was selected based on what was selected. It’s the contracting rules, which awards to the low bid. It’s pretty cut and dry,” Madden said.
Standard Bus’s Ron Swizdaryk said his company just couldn’t compete with Takhini on price.
“This is a price-driven contract and we couldn’t price as low as Takhini without compromising safety, employee wages and our training program,” Swizdaryk said.
That training program involved bringing a mobile training unit up from Outside at a cost of $10,000 twice a year to train Standard’s bus drivers. Standard refused to cut that program, and the cost put their bid above Takhini’s, Swizdaryk said.
“I wish them luck, but we just weren’t going to go that low,” Swizdaryk said.
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