Now that the New York Bankruptcy Court has released the buses owned by busing giant Atlantic Express, Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott said there will be no problem providing yellow bus service for thousands of students in the new year.
“We are delighted that the Bankruptcy Court released the buses for sale. Vendors are currently signing contracts so that all of our children have bus service on January 2. We would like the thank the bus companies that have responded to our call to ensure service when schools resume,” stated Walcott.
Atlantic Express, the largest school-bus contractor for New York City, announced a week ago it would shut its doors by year’s end, after declaring bankruptcy in November. The 40-year-old bus contractor accounted for about a quarter of the city’s bus routes, servicing about 40,000 children. Since the court's ruling, it has begun auctioning off its assets — a step that will enable other area bus companies to pick up where Atlantic left off.
The spokeswoman for the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) within the state Department of Education told STN they are finalizing contracts both for general education and special education that will be in place by the time school resumes on January 2.
In announcing the agreement, Chair of the Subcommittee on New York City Education, State Senator Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) said he was grateful the Department of Education and the Office of Pupil Transportation were able to head off a potential transportation "nightmare" for the city's schoolchildren and parents.
"This is an example of government at its finest, of what can be achieved when people work toward a common goal. I want to commend and thank Mr. Eric Goldstein and Rabbi Moshe Ausfresser of the Office of Pupil Transportation for putting the needs of New York City’s children first," added Sen. Felder.
School districts in other major metropolises like Philadelphia are also working on contingency plans for transporting students who would have been ferried by Atlantic Express buses. Sources have told STN, however, that the beleaguered 40-year-old bus contractor may reopen under a new name on the West Coast and continue serving school districts in Los Angeles and Long Beach.
At the start of winter break, thousands of parents in New York City had been wary about the prospect of student transportation next year. Alexandra Robinson, OPT’s executive director, explained that Atlantic Bus Company and its affiliated companies — including Amboy, Staten Island Bus and Atlantic Queens Bus — would cease operations Dec. 31. The OPT issued a memo on Dec. 17 outlining three transportation options available after that date for affected students and families:
- Replacement companies. The office is working to arrange for other companies to cover the routes currently serviced by Atlantic and staff remains “hopeful” that other companies will take over these routes,
- Special MetroCards. If the DOE cannot find a new company to transport students to school in a yellow bus, the OPT will be distributing special MetroCards for families at each school on Jan. 2, 2014. This means that parents will be responsible for arranging transportation for their children to get to school that day.
- Reimbursement. For students receiving special-education bus service, if the student cannot travel by bus or subway, parents may submit claims for reimbursement for privately arranged transportation, according to the memo. Parents of students with disabilities may be reimbursed if they provide transportation using their own cars, car services, taxis or Access‐A‐Ride, as long as they submit mileage reports or original receipts for expenses incurred. Forms and directions for submitting such claims will be posted to OPT’s website. The OPT advised these parents to begin identifying service providers in advance.
Additionally, the office recommended that all parents regularly check its website beginning Friday, Dec. 27 for updates on bus service and either dial 311 or call its customer service line at (718) 392-8855. The staff also will call all the families of students receiving special-education bus service prior to Jan. 2, 2014 to give them updated bus provider information.
“We are working hard to make sure that there will be alternate transportation for your child on January 2, 2014,” stated Robinson. “We understand the anxiety and inconvenience that this situation may bring. We appreciate your support.”