New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Laws to End School Bus “Nightmares” Pass City Council

New York, NY – Today, the City Council passed legislation aimed at preventing the annual back to school “nightmares.” At the start of every school year, New York City's students are stuck on buses for hours, leaving parents worrying as to where their children are. Council Member Ben Kallos introduced two bills passing the Council today as part of the STOP Act, that would give parents an opportunity prior to the school year beginning to review and challenge routes and require bus companies to test routes with dry runs. The second bill co-prime sponsored by Council Member Chaim Deutsch, requires the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) to install GPS devices on buses so parents know where their children are.
 
As reported by the New York Times the annual bus nightmares reached crisis levels last November when Winter Storm Avery left young children who receive special education on a bus in the snow for more than 10 hours. Kallos’ bills, introduced with Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Education Chair Mark Treyger, take lessons from Boston, where parents get bus routes weeks ahead of the school year in time to challenge routes that look like trouble, and from the New York City Chancellor's home city of Houston, where since 2015, parents have had access to a GPS app so they know where the bus is in the event of delays.
 
"No parent should wonder where their child is or when their child is finally getting home from a school bus ride gone off track. Parents would rest assured knowing when and where their child’s school bus is using an app on their phone," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "Sometimes the biggest problems have simple solutions, I am confident this package of legislation will make a real difference in the lives of kids and parents throughout our City. Thank you to Education Chair Mark Treyger for his leadership and to Council Member Chaim Deutsch who has spent 18 years working on this issue starting under then-Council Member Michael Nelson. Lastly, thank you to Speaker Corey Johnson for fast-tracking this bill so we get it implemented by the coming school year."
 
This legislation follows years of complaints by schools, parents, and advocates about the many systemic issues plaguing OPT, including missing buses, chronic delays in bus arrivals and pick-ups, poor routing, failure to abide by medical codes for disabled students, a lack of specific training for drivers and escorts working with disabled children, and unsanctioned routing changes.
 
Int.1099-2018 A, was inspired by a similar bill Council Member Chaim Deutsch worked on when he was a staffer for Council Member Michael Nelson. The legislation requires the Office of Pupil Transport (OPT) to provide real-time GPS location data to authorized individuals such as parents and the Department of Education. This service will eliminate the problem of bus drivers and escorts fielding frantic and angry calls from parents and schools, allowing them to focus on doing their jobs safely.
 
Int. 1148-2018 B requires OPT share bus routes with families 15 days prior to the first day of school. The legislation also forces OPT to perform dry runs for the routes chosen, report annually on how yellow bus routes are determined, and report the number of buses and staff needed to meet those goals and recommendations. This bill is designed to work in unison with a series of reporting and transparency bills introduced by Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger.
 
Councilmember Chaim Deutsch said, “As a father of five children, I’ve felt that fear of not knowing where my child is. Putting your precious child onto a school bus should not have to be a scary experience. The bottom line is, parents deserve to know where their children are. In cold or inclement weather, parents should not be left standing at a bus stop for absurd lengths of time, when there is a simple way to avoid that inconvenience. Technology has come so far in the last 10 years, where we are now able to install GPS on school buses inexpensively. This bill will ensure that parents get their power back. I’m proud to have worked on this for many years with my predecessor Councilmember Michael Nelson, and I’m grateful to my friend and colleague Councilmember Ben Kallos for leading the charge to get this done. While previous Councils have put politics before practicality, kudos to Speaker Corey Johnson for putting New York City children first.”
 
"Parents have enough to worry about. School bus rides to and from school should not be another cause for concern. I'm proud to join Council Members Kallos and Deutsch in sponsoring this legislation that will give parents peace of mind when it comes to their child's daily commute. Thank you also to Speaker Corey Johnson for his leadership, recognizing the need to expedite this package of legislation," said Council Member Mark Treyger Chair, Committee on Education

Students with identified disabilities comprise two-thirds of the children who ride city-contracted school buses, and they often travel longer distances to receive appropriate schooling due to their disability. The start of this 2018-19 school year served as a stark reminder of how serious the situation can be for these students with a series of highly publicized incidents that demonstrated difficulties in contacting buses full of students during inclement weather. Int. 1099-2018 A calls for a school bus tracking app that could immediately and dramatically improve the overall landscape by providing families with timely, critical information: where the bus is.
 
Since 2015, cities around the country, including multiple school districts in Houston, Texas, where Chancellor Richard Carranza previously served as superintendent, installed GPS devices in school buses coupled with an application that allows parents to track their children in real-time.
 
“Giving our most vulnerable families basic, helpful information is a measure of respect,” said special education attorney Regina Skyer, whose law firm represents thousands of New York City families with students receiving special education. “In the hands of parents, a bus tracker app provides critical information to manage a busy day. But the intangible benefits are even greater—some peace of mind that a mother or father knows where their disabled child is.”
 
“With all the complaints we hear from parents about no-show buses, buses that arrive late, and long bus rides that far exceed the time limit allowed for certain students with disabilities, we are eager for this legislation to move forward,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York, a non-profit organization advocating for New York students who face barriers to academic success, focusing on students from low-income backgrounds.  “Students with disabilities should not have their education shortchanged by problems with transportation, and this common-sense measure is an important step toward ensuring they are in the classroom where they belong.”

“Families should not and must not fear losing track of their children as they are bussed to and from school. We have the technology to solve this program, and it’s long past time that we deploy it. I commend Council Members Kallos, Treyger, and Deutsch for their diligence on achieving passage of legislation that will provide real-time GPS location data to parents and guardians, bringing OPT into the 21st century,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
 
“A parent should never be in the position of not knowing where their young child is,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch. “As a father of five, I’ve experienced that terrifying feeling of losing sight of my child for a few seconds in a public place. Parents who put their kids on a school bus go through that same feeling every day, but we can do better. This bill will arm New York City parents with real-time information about their child’s whereabouts and help keep our students safe. Kudos to Councilmember Kallos for taking the lead on this vital issue, and I look forward to working together, along with Education Chair Mark Treyger, to pass Intro 1099.”

According to OPT, two-thirds of the school bus fleet, including all special education buses, have “Navman” GPS installed, and the DOE has approved funds to outfit the remaining buses. However, OPT has cited ‘privacy concerns’ in the past when shutting down the idea of parents gaining access to GPS data. Yet hundreds of school districts around the country have successfully worked with software developers and bus companies to provide similar tracking services to schools and families. Without real-time access to GPS data for parents and school officials, the money invested in outfitting our contracted bus fleet with GPS capabilities has a very limited return for New Yorkers.

Get involved to make your voice heard.

Get monthly updates with the information you need to make a difference.