New York City School Bus Strike Ends

NEW YORK -

A strike by New York City school bus drivers ended on Friday, capping a five-week-long transit nightmare for 152,000 students in the largest public-school system in the United States.

Students will get back on the yellow buses when classes resume on Wednesday following a February break cut short to make up for school days lost during Hurricane Sandy.

Rabbi Moshe Ausfresser, the Jewish liaison to the Office of Pupil Transportation, told Hamodia that all the special-ed students whom OPT placed on different routes during the bus strike will continue to do so on Tuesday. They have this option to   continue if OPT has a record of the school being open on Tuesday.

“I want the yeshivos to know we’re there … and we’re doing the best for you,” Rabbi Ausfresser. “Communication is the most crucial thing. Good or bad, you’re not in the dark.”

Another update is expected Tuesday about Wednesday’s situation.

Deciding to end the first bus driver strike in 34 years, the Amalgamated Transit Union appeared to hand a victory to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who refused to give in to demands for job security and instead sought new, less expensive contracts for routes, many of them serving children with special needs.

Only 152,000 of the city’s 1.1 million public-school children ride yellow buses.

“For decades, the monopolistic bus contract process benefited the bus companies and unions at the expense of the city’s taxpayers and students, but no longer,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement. “[Thursday], I urged the union leaders to end the strike and made clear that the city would not be held hostage. Tonight, they agreed and will restore bus service on Wednesday when schools reopen. … We appreciate the hard work our bus drivers and matrons do, and we welcome them back to the job.

“In the city’s entire history, the special interests have never had less power than they do today, and the end of this strike reflects the fact that when we say we put children first, we mean it.”

Union leader Michael Cordiello said the strike’s end was prompted less by the mayor and more by a letter from several candidates who hope to succeed him next year. They held out the promise that if elected, they would revisit the job security issue.

“Our bus drivers and matrons look forward to getting back to work and doing the important job of safely transporting the students,” Cordiello said in a statement.

During the strike, students received free subway passes and reimbursement for taxi fares from the city, but travel complications, especially in wintry weather, resulted in school absences for some students and missed work days for their parents.

Bloomberg has said the city has no choice but to seek alternatives because it pays $1.1 billion a year to school-bus contractors, roughly $6,900 for each student, more than in any other U.S. city. Los Angeles, which pays the next highest rate, spends $3,100 for each student, Bloomberg said.

The city has already begun to look for a more cost-efficient solution.

“Earlier this week, the city accepted the first bids on school bus contracts in more than 30 years, with the potential to cut costs, transfer the savings to classrooms, and secure quality service from certified drivers and matrons for our students,” New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said.

Contracts to provide school bus service had not been renegotiated in more than three decades before the city began seeking competitive bids in December.

New York City Councilman David Greenfield said he was “thrilled” with the news. In addition, the strike, Greenfield said, led him to renew his “call for New York City to institute a coupon system allowing parents to contract directly with the school bus company that best meets their child’s needs to avoid this situation from occurring again.”

Greenfield, along with Councilman Lew Fidler, plan to meet with Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm to discuss their transportation voucher proposal, stating that such a plan would give parents full control over their children’s busing and would greatly reducing costs for the city.

Last year, a re-bidding of pre-kindergarten bus contracts, a much smaller system, ended up saving the city $95 million over five years, the officials said.

(With reporting by Reuters)