City Prepares for 'Strong Possibility' of School Bus Strike

By Jess Wisloski on January 13, 2013 11:12am | Updated on January 13, 2013 3:15pm

CITY HALL — A union bus strike that would leave 150,000 students without rides to school is rumored to go into effect on Wednesday, according to the Department of Education.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on his Sunday radio address a number of steps the city plans to take to cut back on the inconveniences for families. Hours later, Dennis Walcott, the schools chancellor, introduced additional measures that schools will take if the strike commences.

The threat of the strike — which loomed throughout late December — started over a labor dispute between the city and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 that represents the drivers, after the DOE announced plans to seek competitive bids for 1,100 bus routes for children with special needs instead of rehiring existing drivers and unionized workers.

According to DOE figures, the city's busing costs have risen from $71 million in 1979 to $1.1 billion today.

A spokeswoman for Local 1181 could not immediately be reached Sunday.

Bloomberg said Sunday that what the city spends on busing, at $6,900 per student, far outstrips comparable cities like Los Angeles, Calif., which pays $3,100 per student.

"Last year, we bid out contracts for preschool bus routes, and the new contracts will save taxpayers $95 million over five years. That’s money we are putting back into classrooms, where it’s needed most," Bloomberg said.

But the ATU has complained that the city's plans will leave the most vulnerable children in the care of private transit providers with unqualified drivers who don't have the standards, training and experience that union drivers have. The ATU is also trying to secure positions for their existing 7,700 members working at the new companies the city hires — job protections the city says it legally can't make.

"So there’s nothing the city can do to meet the union’s demands — and in a year when our students have already missed a week or more of school because of Hurricane Sandy, a strike would be totally irresponsible," Bloomberg said.

When asked if the city couldn't write contingencies into the private contracts with companies it selected to hire for the busing services, stipulating the firms work with or prioritize applications from unionized drivers, a spokeswoman for Walcott said the option wasn't on the table.  

"It's not something we're considering right now," she said.

Walcott echoed many of Bloomberg's points, and repeated that the city would try its best to ensure life would continue normally for families.

"Our goal is to make sure students get to school, and to pursue contracts that are safe and more reasonably priced, so that we can direct those savings in the classroom where they belong," Walcott said.

BUS STRIKE CONTINGENCY PLAN:

♦ Schools' general offices will issue free MetroCards to students who normally take yellow bus service.

♦ Parents of K-2 students or children who normally require transportation directly to school may be issued an additional MetroCard to escort your child to school.

♦ Parents of children in grades K-6 for whom public transportation is not an option will be reimbursed for travel costs to school. Parents driving students will receive .55 cents per mile reimbursement, and taxi or cab costs will be reimbursed after filling out a form at the school.

♦ Latecomers to school because of the bus strike will be excused up to 2 hours, and all absences due to the strike will be marked absent, but with a special code so the attendance record is not impacted.

♦ Afterschool programs will stay open, but no bus service will be provided.

♦ The NYPD will add transit officers and crossing guards to help manage the anticipated increase in the number students using public transportation and walking to school.

♦ The TLC will issue an alert to all taxi and livery licensees warning them to expect increased demand and to have the maximum number of cars available. 

The city urged parents to check www.schools.nyc.gov or call 311 for updates.

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