Department of Education returns taxi contract for students with special needs to former supplier

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Zelita Mahoney and her son Dom, who has Down’s syndrome, use the Specialized School Transportation Assistance Service (SESTA) to get to Marcellin College. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

A taxi company lost a government contract carrying disabled children to and from school – just two weeks after resuming service.

It follows about fifteen students stranded and in distress due to problems related to the transition to the new supplier, the Auckland Co-operative Taxi Society.

The Education Department has promised a review of what went wrong, although details are yet to be decided.

The Herald reported that vulnerable children were abandoned at school until 11 a.m., sometimes even taken to the wrong school. Others were deposited in unsafe conditions or were not recovered at all.

This morning, the ministry wrote to Auckland Central Schools, saying that Co-op Taxis had “agreed that they are unable to provide the service we need.”

“We have mutually agreed that they will relinquish this cluster.”

“I apologize wholeheartedly for the uncertainty and disruption you have experienced,” said the letter from the head of the ministry’s school transport group, James Meffan.

Sharyn Pilbrow, acting head of the ministry’s education infrastructure service, has confirmed that Co-op has given up on the contract and will go to Cross Country Rentals starting next Wednesday. A gradual transition period would end on August 17.

“Our priority is to minimize any additional stress and disruption for our SESTA students,” said Pilbrow.

Auckland staff were in constant communication with providers and schools.

The ministry did not disclose details of the contracts, citing commercial sensitivity. He also did not respond to whether the South Auckland contract would be returned to the former supplier Go Bus.

Co-op Taxis chairman Jacob Patel said there wasn’t much he could say due to the terms of Co-op’s contract with the ministry, but it was a tough decision to let the job go. .

“We regret that we were unable to honor the contract. We apologize to the parents who had difficulty not picking up their children on time.”

The company will continue to work hard to serve the children of other SESTA clusters to the best of its ability, Patel said.

“Our supplier did not respect his contractual obligations”

Co-op Taxis won contracts for south and central Auckland in March and started work last Monday, at the start of period 3. It already had SESTA contracts for west and east. Auckland.

By noon as of Monday, more than 150 students – about 12% of the total in Auckland – had had problems, and the ministry sent apologetic emails to parents and schools.

Co-op Taxis arrived at a "mutual agreement" with the Ministry of Education to terminate its Auckland Central SESTA contract.  Photo / File
Co-op Taxis has reached a “mutual agreement” with the Department of Education to terminate its central SESTA contract in Auckland. Photo / File

In an exceptionally strong public statement last week, the ministry said it was “disappointed that our supplier SESTA has not fulfilled its contractual obligations”.

Under the terms of the contract, all students were to have a dedicated driver, and the drivers were to meet with schools and families to confirm pickup details before the start of term 3.

Co-op had assured the ministry that these would be followed, but often they were not.

For some of the most disadvantaged children, it has been two weeks of hell. A father told the Herald that his son was throwing up with anxiety every day.

Her son used to go to school with the same driver every day, in a van equipped with a special safety harness. But since Co-op has taken over, different drivers have shown up at the wrong time, and usually with the wrong type of vehicle. He had taken a week off to transport his son and other children to school.

The Herald has also heard of two students abandoned at the wrong school, including a boy with autism spectrum disorder who first used the SESTA service last week.

His mother said that because he was having trouble communicating, he could tell the driver it was the wrong place but couldn’t explain where he was supposed to go. The boy was able to call his mother to come and get him; he is now too impatient to use the taxi service. Her mother still does not know who was to blame for the incorrect information provided.

Last week Mt Roskill MP Michael Wood wrote a letter to Education Minister Chris Hipkins urging him to urgently address the issues raised by the change. Hipkins confirmed that his office received the letter and noted it with the Department of Education.

“I prayed”: the parents delighted with the taxi supplier change

Mum Mel Watson told the Herald, through tears, that she was “delighted” that the contract was returned to Cross Country Rentals, saying that “it could be what it feels like to win a gold medal”.

His daughter Paris Parker, who has Down syndrome, attends the MacLean Center in Mt Roskill Grammar.

Mel Watson with daughter Paris Parker, 20, who uses Specialized School Transportation Assistance (SESTA) to get to and from school at MacLean Center in Mt Roskill.  Photo / Supplied
Mel Watson with daughter Paris Parker, 20, who uses Specialized School Transportation Assistance (SESTA) to get to and from school at MacLean Center in Mt Roskill. Photo / Supplied

She was late for school every day, as each day a different driver would pick her up and take her on random routes through town to take other students – meaning she was passing by. 90 minutes in the car each way.

“Through it all, Paris is fine because she’s just going to get in anyone’s car. That’s the problem… She’s fine, it’s me who hurt myself.

“It’s a huge weight on my shoulders to know [the service] is back in the hands of the people who will actually take care of these children and not treat them like childbirth. “

Zelita Mahoney, whose son Dom has Down’s syndrome, was “very, very happy” to learn that Cross Country had won back the contract.

The 15-year-old lives in Glendowie and attends Marcellin College in Royal Oak. He had a strong relationship with his old driver and the new service was not the same, Mahoney said.

“Our new driver is a sweet man. It’s not him – it’s the system. He takes care of Dom very well. But I still feel like Dom has a sad face every morning – he was in the van with his good friends. “

Dom’s former driver had taken a job at Co-op Taxis, but Mahoney hoped she would be able to resume her old cross-country race.

And she wanted a public apology from Co-op Taxis and the Department of Education.

“It definitely cost us our well-being and our sanity. It wasn’t good enough. I prayed that God would do something about it.”


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