Atlantic Express remains in operation at certain West Coast school districts, a local director of transportation told School Transportation News.
The national school bus contractor continues serving the likes of Long Beach Unified School District, located south of Los Angeles, and others after receiving permission from a bankruptcy court that is overseeing the selling off of all company assets. The 40-year-old contractor, which has operations in several states, filed for bankruptcy in early November and ceased its East Coast operations late last month.
The closure occurred after a New York City school-bus driver union rejected a new contract lacking employee protection provisions, or EPPs, as mandated by the city's first rebid of school-bus contracts in 30 years. Championed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and carried out by Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the rebidding represents their efforts to rein in soaring student transportation costs, considered among the highest in the nation.
Paul Bailey, Long Beach's director of transportation, said he doesn't foresee any disruption in service or losing the contractor, even though it may reopen under a new name with either some or all of the owners intact, in the next month or so.
"We'll go ahead and put it out to bid for pricing, but it doesn't mean we can't renew," he noted. "If things go well and it's a smooth transition, we would go with them because we have a fair price out here and a good history with them. We don't have contingencies like they did in New York, the only place I know of with those employee protections. That's what got New York into trouble."
He added that he has heard that it could take another month for the bankruptcy court to wade through contract documents from around the nation before an offer on Atlantic Express' assets can be fully resolved. He also said he knows there are at least two unidentified bidders per court documents.
Donald Wilkes, transportation director at the Los Angeles Unified School District, previously told STN that he expects to continue using the school bus contractor as well, as the owners similarly assured him they were not closing shop on the West Coast. He did not return calls to STN this week as he is out of the office.
Atlantic Express ran both school-bus and transit operations in a dozen states, but by 2008 the company downsized operations mainly in the Northeast U.S. as well as California, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.