Officials are working “day and night” to avert a looming bus transportation crisis that awaits 40,000 students when they return to school Jan. 2, according to a spate of messages put out by the Department of Education’s official Twitter feed this evening.
The city’s largest school bus contractor, Atlantic Express Transportation, filed for bankruptcy in November and will cease operations at the end of the month. This week, the company has been in bankruptcy court seeking approval to sell off its contracts to other bus vendors.
On Friday, a judge approved of the sale of contracts for the 1,600 bus routes that Atlantic and its affiliates operated in New York City this year. The decision allows the city to transfer over the contracts to new vendors, which Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a tweeted statement would restore bus service by Jan. 2.
Statement from Chancellor Walcott on buses: "We are delighted that the Bankruptcy Court today released the buses for sale...— NYC Public Schools (@NYCSchools) December 20, 2013
...Vendors are currently signing contracts so that all of our children have bus service on January 2nd...— NYC Public Schools (@NYCSchools) December 20, 2013
...Our staff have been working diligently day and night to protect the interests of our families...— NYC Public Schools (@NYCSchools) December 20, 2013
We would like the thank the bus companies that have responded to our call to ensure service when school resumes. "— NYC Public Schools (@NYCSchools) December 20, 2013
One question that remains is whether new vendors can effectively master the bus routes, which often have complicated directions and instructions, so there are no disruptions.
Atlantic’s routes bring roughly 25 percent of the 150,000 students who take the bus to school each day. This year, Atlantic received at least $175 million in bus contracts from the city, according to the city comptroller’s web site.
The company was hit hard after the city’s 2011 cost-saving decision to bid out new busing contracts that did not guarantee seniority wages for experienced drivers. For decades, the same contracts had been renegotiated, a practice that officials said was to blame for a busing budget that exceeded $1 billion.
The decision caused a six-week bus strike earlier this year and sparked fierce protests from advocates and elected officials who accused the city of trying to break the union that represented bus drivers. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio was among the officials who opposed the city’s handling of the contracts and has vowed to review the bidding process once elected.