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School bus service needs to earn straight A’s

Students walk toward a school bus in Manhattan's

Students walk toward a school bus in Manhattan's East Village in 2013. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

With the school year underway, transportation has been a problem for too many students.

Across the city, and particularly in a large swath of Queens, there have been tens of thousands of complaints about no-show school buses, buses delayed for hours getting to or from school, and in some cases, drivers who didn’t even know where they were going.

In one frightening case, a 5-year-old girl who lived four miles from school spent more than four hours on a bus before she made it home. The girl’s mom tracked the child via a cellphone in her backpack, and saw her bus go from Astoria to Woodside to Jackson Heights and back again.

All told, NYC’s Office of Pupil Transportation has fielded nearly 90,000 complaints — about 17,500 more than last year at this time.

The city contracts school bus service to a variety of companies. It’s not unusual to have some delays at the start of the school year as drivers get familiar with routes. This year, the magnitude of the problem is unacceptable. By Monday, in an attempt to get a handle on the problem, city officials began reassignments of routes still plagued by delays or no-shows from Grandpa’s Bus Co., which had a particularly bad track record.

But there needs to be a long-term solution. GPS software of some kind should be installed on all buses to allow dispatchers to track all buses at all times. This also would give parents the ability to track a child’s bus. GPS also would allow drivers to find unfamiliar stops and know where they are if they get lost.

Beyond that, an online complaint reporting system could provide regularly updated real-time data — similar to existing online charts of daily school attendance — to show whether buses are on time. And next year, a few days of better late-summer route planning could allow city officials and bus company executives to iron out some problems before the school year starts.

Only then can we give our children smoother rides.


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