A change to the Ministry of Education tender process for school bus contracts was a model that wasn't suited to a company like Nimon and Sons, the company's manager says.
The 116-year-old bus company recently lost its school bus contract, with Wairarapa based company Tranzit taking over next year.
General manager Katie Nimon said in 2008 when the contracts last came up, the bus companies could tender for as many individual runs as they wanted.
"That meant that the contracts were suited to businesses of all sizes."
This year there was a two-step tender process. In tender 1, smaller companies got a pick of the runs, but couldn't have more than 10 per cent of their region's runs and if they accepted runs at this stage, they could not bid on tender 2.
Runs were collated into Napier, Hastings and Havelock North clusters and companies could only tender on a cluster as a whole.
Nimons had most of the runs in the clusters, but not all of them, so tendered on all three.
Nimon felt that the system of bigger clusters was better suited to bigger companies that already had a contract for urban bus runs, which can provide income to cover some staffing and other costs so they can offer a cheaper price to MoE than a company that relies on the school bus contracts to cover all staffing and other costs.
The tender 1 process was suited to small companies.
It would have been a "huge gamble" for Nimons to cut the rate just to secure the work.
They had expected they might lose a cluster and become a smaller operator but did not think "we could ever lose everything".
"They decided to choose that model, we don't fit that model, so we aren't in the picture."
She believes the ministry's objective was to have fewer companies for its staff to manage.
"They might not have said 'we wanted less operators' but their intention was to have it easier for their team to manage in respect to compliance.
"We're not saying this is so unfair, change it back, we're just saying it's a sorry state that that's what the outcome is."
Nimon had heard rumours that they lost the contract because she ran as a Napier National Party candidate in the last election, and said she "would like to think that is paranoia".
Ministry head of education infrastructure service Kim Shannon said their procurement approach was designed to deliver the best public value, rather than focus on price alone.
"This means we took into account economic, cultural, environmental and social benefits.
"We looked for suppliers who could demonstrate outcomes such as driver wellbeing, vehicle age and environmental benefits, while delivering a safe and efficient school bus service for students."
A number of successful bids were not the lowest price.
"Our process was fair and transparent, overseen by an independent Probity Auditor and reviewed, audited and assured by independent legal, procurement and transport experts.
The tender process was split in two "to preserve competition" and "give opportunities for suppliers of all sizes".
Tender 1 was designed for smaller regional companies to compete for individual routes and tender 2 for larger transport companies. Suppliers could choose to participate in either, Shannon said.
"Routes were bundled into groups for Tender 2 to ensure we received bids for all routes and to allow bidders to maximise public value by spreading their fixed costs."
Shannon said there will be 46 transport service suppliers next year compared to 61 in 2021.