After four months of horror stories about yellow school bus services, the City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed seven reform bills to overhaul the long-troubled bus system.
Starting next fall, all school buses will be equipped with GPS tracking devices allowing parents and guardians to monitor exactly where their children are. The bills also would force the city to publicly report delays, allegations of driver misconduct, the exact length of each route and details about parent complaints. And all buses would finally have two-way radios, so when things do go wrong, drivers can instantly seek help.
"We now have legislation that takes lessons from cities like Boston, where parents get bus routes weeks ahead of the school year, in time to challenge routes as well as from the Chancellor's home city of Houston, where since 2015 parents have had access to GPS apps, so they know where the buses are," City Councilman Ben Kallos said.
In September, bus problems began before the first school bells rang, when many kids were not picked up for the first day of classes. Other children rode for hours, arriving late to school. By the end of the month, the city had received 130,000 complaints about the school buses, significantly up from previous years, when bus problems had also plagued the start of school.
During the November snowstorm, 700 buses got stuck, leaving thousands of students in cold vehicles with no procedures in place for food, bathroom access or communication with parents. The last child was finally brought home at 4:30 in the morning.
"DOE's lack of communication with parents and failure to hold school bus vendors accountable has been unconscionable," said Mark Treygar on Wednesday.
The Department of Education says it's supportive of the Council's reforms, and it's also simultaneously working on its own changes, including finding a new leader for the yellow school bus system, after the Chancellor fired the official responsible last fall.
With the department on board, the bills are expected to be signed by the Mayor.