Q&A with Sudbury Student Services Consortium

The Sudbury Student Services Consortium was formed in January 2001 as a partnership of four adjacent school districts in the Greater Sudbury, Massey, Espanola, and Manitoulin areas to deliver common services beginning with student transportation. It also provides transportation services for the Huron Superior Catholic District School Board and three First Nations in northern Ontario. The Consortium currently transports over 20,000 students on 398 buses daily and is one of the most efficient and cost-effective transportation systems in the province of Ontario.

What problems, issues, or needs led you to engage Student Transportation of Canada (STC)?
The Consortium was formed with the goal of creating a more efficient and cost-effective system of busing students from multiple school districts across a vast area that includes 330 lakes, provincial parks and conservation reserves, and many small rocky mountains. We cover cities, towns and rural areas with a wide variety of road conditions. STC, a member of the Student Transportation of America family of companies, was among the first school bus companies contracted to serve the members of the Consortium in 2001.

What have the implementation phase and ongoing relationship been like?
Implementation of the new routes established in concert with STC was a very positive experience. Our consortium handled the complex job of designing the new routes but the STC team was a big help to us as we looked to create the most efficient and cost-effective transportation plan. The original four districts started with a total of more than 500 school bus routes and in the years since our formation we have reduced that number by more than 100 routes. That consolidation, which combines students from all five school boards, was made possible by establishing many shuttle routes and transfer points. For example, we have routes that service students from more than 10 different schools each morning and then drops the students at a transfer point, such as an arena where they transfer to different shuttles that take them to their final destinations. STC worked right beside us to assist and make recommendations that made this complicated plan a success.

Our relationship with STC is very positive and productive. Recently, when our local STC General Manager retired, I was a bit skeptical because I worked with him for many years and counted on his ideas and vision. But I have to say that the transition to the new manager has been great. His vision for our transportation system is right in line with mine, in terms of safety, customer service and how we treat employees. It has been refreshing to see how smoothly this transition occurred.

When bad weather hits, I can always count on the STC team. STC managers often are on the road as early as 2 to 3 a.m. to monitor conditions. They provide me with a report by 4 a.m. so I can make decisions about school cancellations and notify my administrators. They always give me good advice.

What have been the greatest benefits of working with STC?
I have to say that STC’s focus on safety is the biggest benefit of working with the company. The STC Safety Manager is very knowledgeable about current regulations and legislation related to safety. He’s always available and has become my go-to person whenever I have a question. He’s the first to offer assistance when I need to go out to look at a specific bus stop or make sure there’s enough space for a turnaround.

The STC team also is very good at addressing administrator and parent issues. Parental expectations have changed greatly over the past several years. Although my staff fields the initial calls and monitors our online complaint system, we channel all contractor-related issues to our contractors for them to investigate complaints and ensure proper resolution. STC replies as soon as they receive an email and has a process in place to escalate complaints, as needed. I can always pick up the phone and speak with the STC General Manager who is always invested in resolving situations.

Can you share specifically how STC helped you reach your goals?
Our primary goals are efficiency and safety and STC has helped us on both fronts. Recently, STC has helped us achieve another goal involving our special needs transportation. I wanted to bring our special needs wheelchair vans up to the same D250 safety standard required for our full-size buses – features like stop arms, flashing lights and integrated seats. Our new STC Manager agreed and included these features in vehicles replaced during the fall of 2018. Now 20 of our special needs wheelchair buses include these safety features and we hope to equip more in the future.

How is STC aligned with the values that drive your school district?
STC shares our vision for delivering the safest and most efficient service to our students. This is especially apparent when inclement weather hits. They help us reach our goals every day.

How has working with STC made your job/work life easier?
The STC team has made great strides in driver retention over the past two years and that provides continuity of service that makes my job easier. STC has been prepared to do whatever it takes to hire and retain drivers, and that attitude has paid off. We started this past school year with a full complement of drivers and alternates and the vast majority are still with us. Students and parents appreciate those familiar faces.

What surprised you or pleased you the most about working with STC?
What surprised me most was how smoothly the transition to a new local STC Manager went. The new manager’s vision of safety and operational efficiencies are perfectly in line with mine. He has created an environment in which drivers and other employees are positive and happy to be at work, which is paying off in terms of lower turnover. This makes everyone happy.

Would you recommend STC to others? What positive benefits would you emphasize?
I have and will continue to recommend STC to other school officials based on the STC team’s knowledge of our local area, focus on safety and excellent management. We value and appreciate our partnership with STC.

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