Operators of rural school bus companies staged a protest Monday in front of the office of new education minister and Guelph MPP Liz Sandals.

The operators say provincial education policies have put a dent in their business in favour of companies that operate school buses around the world.

“They gave us Family Day and they took away our family business,” said Lisa McDougall of Mount Forest-based Cook School Bus Lines.

McDougall says the problems began when the government forced all school boards to handle bus contracts through a bid-and-tender process, and always award the contract to the lowest bid.

For Cook School Bus Lines, it was impossible to compete with the prices of larger operators – though McDougall says the competitors purposely made unsustainable bids to come in at the bottom. As a result of the policy, the company went from 19 bus routes to one.

“We were decimated within a span of 11 months,” said McDougall.

There were approximately 50 people taking part in the protest.

Sandals was not in her office Monday. Calls and emails from CTV were not returned.

Former education minister Laurel Broten has said that the changes were made to make the hiring of school bus companies transparent and accountable.

McDougall says there are advantages to dealing with local school bus operators tat make up for the financial cost.

“With multinationals, sometimes you’re phoning out-of-country to find out what’s going on with your kid, which is concerning to any parent,” she said.

It’s estimated the province saves $34 million over three years by automatically awarding bus contracts to the lowest bidder.