City Council Discusses Bus Issues With DOE
Updated: 10/10/2012 09:10 PM
By: Lindsey Christ
The city's largest bus system is not run by the MTA. It's run by the Department of Education. On Wednesday, City Council members wanted to know why school buses so often leave kids in the lurch. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
It's an annual tradition marking the start of the school year: yellow bus horror stories. The five-hour ride that traumatizes a student with autism. The bus that doesn't show up for weeks to pick up a 4-year-old with cancer.
City Council members relayed story after story to education officials Wednesday, saying families are still plagued by busing problems in mid-October.
"A visually-impaired 4-year-old Queens student was scheduled for pick-up at 5 a.m.," said City Councilman Robert Jackson.
DOE officials say they're working hard to address problems more quickly.
"Running the largest transportation operation in the country is not an easy job," said Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm.
Every day, 14,000 employees drive 160,000 students to 3,500 schools along 7,700 different routes. The cost? $1.3 billion a year.
So this fall, the DOE plans to ask bus companies to compete for new contracts. Most of the existing contracts were last bid in 1979.
"Our goals will be first, to improve service and secondly, to control costs," Grimm said.
The big question for drivers is whether their seniority will be protected under the new deal. The DOE won't say.
Last fall, a smaller set of contracts for pre-kindergarten busing did not include seniority protections and for weeks, the mayor and drivers' union warned drivers might strike. With these larger contracts, the drivers' union said not protecting seniority could have major consequences.
"You would see a lot of inexperienced drivers come in at low wages and I think there would be a lot of labor unrest in the city for years to come," said Michael Cordiello, the president of the transit union.
As the new pre-kindergarten contracts this year showed, new contracts can often mean new problems.
A company that won about one-third of the pre-kindergarten contracts left so many kids stranded this September, the DOE had to scramble to replace it.
"The problem was, this company could not meet its obligations," Grimm said.
Now, with a potential labor battle and contracts changing hands for the first time in decades, the school bus ride may just get even bumpier.
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