CITY HALL — As a labor dispute between the Department of Education and the school bus drivers' union escalates, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city is preparing for the "strong possibility" that drivers will strike after the holidays.
At a press briefing Friday morning, Bloomberg said the city will do "everything in our power to mitigate the effects of a strike" and has already distributed MetroCards to schools in case more than 152,000 public school students have no other way to get to school.
He called plans to strike "irresponsible," especially during a school year when students missed more than a week of classes because of Hurricane Sandy, and said the city cannot afford rising charges by private bus companies.
"We have an obligation to spend our money on educating our kids, not going and subsidizing companies that charge more than the market can bear," he said.
According to DOE figures, busing costs have risen from $71 million in 1979 to $1.1 billion a year today.
To rein in costs, the DOE has released a request for bids for more than 1,100 school bus routes, representing about a sixth of total routes. Current contracts are set to expire June 30, 2013.
Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents about 7,700 school bus drivers who work for private companies, is seeking job guarantees for workers that would apply even if new companies were selected to run routes.
“Mayor Bloomberg’s cavalier attitude is unacceptable, and we cannot stand by while city officials cut costs at the expense of our children," Local 1181 said in a statement. "We are weighing all of our options, and are prepared to take any action necessary to protect the safety and security of New York City school children.”
Bloomberg pointed out that a judge ruled in June 2011 that such job guarantees are not allowed because they hinder open competition.
"We are not legally permitted to do what they are asking us to do," he said.
Families whose children are bused from their homes or from areas where public transportation is not readily available can be reimbursed at a rate of $0.55 per mile, according to the DOE. Parents who use taxis or car services can also be reimbursed by filing out forms available at schools.
More information is available by calling 311, calling the DOE's Pupil Transportation Hotline at (718) 392-8855, or checking schools.nyc.gov.
The city's last bus strike occurred in 1979 and lasted about three months, according to the DOE.