A City Council committee will hold a hearing on the crisis in the city's school bus system, following a Daily News series which exposed rampant complaints about the hiring of drivers with serious criminal records.
Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Besonhurst), chair of the City Council Education Committee, scheduled an Oct. 16 oversight hearing on the Education Department's Office of Pupil Transportation.
The News previously exposed massive delays and no shows in the bus system. By Sept. 14 — just the fifth day of school — the city's busing complaint line had been flooded with calls, receiving 76,223 compared to 57,575 calls last year.
An online tally published by the city showed at least 1,010 yellow bus delays and other problems with school buses in one day, as families reported no-shows and late buses.
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The News has also previously reported that more than 100 drivers did not get full background checks over the past five months and at least six drivers had been convicted of serious crimes including domestic abuse, drunk driving and secretly filming a woman in the shower. One driver had 13 prior arrests.
"First and foremost we need to understand how and why this happened," Treyger said, calling for a full investigation. "If companies are not complying with contracts with the city of New York, there must be consequences. We're talking about our children. This is one of our most basic functions and the city failed many of our kids."
DOE officials announced an overhaul of the background check system on Sept. 19 — something Treyger credited to the Daily News.
"I also want to publicly thank the Daily News for its coverage of this important issue," Treyger added. "If not for the News I'm not sure that these issues would ever have come to light."
Meanwhile, the Education Dept. investigations unit that does the background checks has been moved to the Human Resources division on Court St. in Brooklyn from the OPT offices in Queens – a transfer that some investigators are unhappy with.
The background investigations and penalties for misconduct will now be finalized by DOE lawyers.
The City Council oversight panel will also hear testimony on a series of bills, including one that would require DOE to disclose policies and procedures involving drivers and attendants and one that would require two-way radios, cell phones and GPS devices on the buses, Treyger's office said.
"Parents should not have to wonder where their child is or when their child is finally getting home from a school bus ride gone off track. With the measures required in this bill, parents picking up or dropping off their child could rest assured knowing when and where their school bus is, using an app on their phone," said Council Member Ben Kallos (D-UES), a new parent who proposed the GPS bill.
Other bills include the creation of a school bus bill of rights, and more extensive training and tracking of drivers and attendants who work with kids with disabilities.
Education Department Senior Transportation Advisor Kevin Moran said city families deserve consistently good bus service.
"We're meeting with families, bus vendors, and school leaders for their feedback on how we can improve our systems, and look forward to working together to implement more changes," Moran said.
As of this Monday, the city schools yellow bus help line had received 129,827 calls, compared to 109,548 in the same period last year.
But school officials said the call volume has begun to slow down, suggesting some of the service problems may be easing.