The city’s student transportation system is busted.
Dozens of families, advocates, educators and elected officials turned out for a tense City Council hearing Tuesday on the crisis that has engulfed the public schools’ yellow bus system since classes began Sept 5.
Brooklyn Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Bensonhurst) scheduled the oversight hearing on the Education Department’s Office of Pupil Transportation following a series of Daily News reports that exposed massive delays and no shows in the bus system – and exposed rampant complaints about the hiring of drivers with serious criminal records.
Treyger, who’s chair of the City Council Education Committee, cited a News story on a four-hour yellow bus hell ride faced by an autistic fourth-grader from Queens in his opening remarks, in which he said the city’s yellow bus service has hit a new low.
“This is the worst year yet; there is a high rate of delays,” said Treyger. “We have to do better.”
Treyger related his own encounter with a kindergartner from Manhattan — who was let off her bus at the wrong stop three times at the beginning of the last school year — as part of his education in the city’s long struggle to get students to school.
“Citywide, these incidents happen to thousands of students who are negatively impacted by the negligence of DOE and OPT,” Tryeger said. “We cannot continue to allow these things to happen to our children.”
Speaking before a packed crowd in Council Chambers in City Hall, Treyger cited stats showing the city school bus helpline received nearly 130,000 complaints calls during the month of September alone, representing an increase of about 20,000 calls from the same period last year.
He also rattled off the details of nine new bills created by local lawmakers to tackle the yellow busing problems that are driving families crazy, including new laws to mandate the use of GPS devices on buses, to require the DOE to report on bad drivers and average transportation times for students.
City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza addresses issues with the school bus system at Council meeting. (Nina Cochran for New York Daily News)
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza vowed to do better in his testimony at the public hearing, promising to overhaul the city’s long-troubled, $1.2 billion yellow bus system.
“The busing issues and delays families experienced during the first weeks of school, most notably in District 30 in Queens, were unacceptable, and I apologize to all students and families who were affected,” Carranza said.
Carranza then introduced his newly installed transportation adviser Kevin Moran, who listed a number of changes the city is making in response to the spike in yellow bus trouble this year, including added staffers, changes to bus contracts and efforts to tighten background checks for drivers and matrons.
Members of Parents to Improve School Transportation rally at Tweed Courthouse on Tuesday. (Alec Tabak for New York Daily News)
Even before the hotly anticipated hearing even took place, protesters gathered on the steps of the city Education Department headquarters to call for improved service, and Council Member Ben Kallos (D-UES) led a press conference at City Hall in support of legislation to improve bus service.
Families said problems with bus service are ongoing, despite the city’s efforts.
“When you go to work, you want to assume your kid is going to be safe and not sitting in the cold,” said Brooklyn parent Celia Green, who spoke at the protest organized by Parents to Improve Student Transportation. “If you’re always missing half of class, how are you going to do well in school?”