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New York City school bus strike would be city-wide headache, keep many kids home indefinitely

Posted at 8:17 PM, Jan 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-15 20:18:52-05

NEW YORK (PIX11) — The school bus strike set to begin Wednesday will not only directly affect 150,000 families, it may keep a sizable portion of those families’ students at home for the foreseeable future, and will end up making everybody else’s commute that much harder.

“You’re not only going to be dealing with regular traffic, you’re also going to be dealing with other parents who have to take their kids as well,” said Roseanna Incantalupo, the mother of a 17-year-old girl who needs a wheelchair-equipped bus to get around.

Incantalupo also has a 10-year-old who rides a school bus every day as well.  On Wednesday, and for as long as the school bus strike lasts, the mother who lives in Prince’s Bay, Staten Island,  will have to figure out a way to get both of her daughters to school every day.

School bus strike

The bus union says members feel they have no choice but to strike to ensure their demands are met.

“It’s not easy for the typical person,” said Incantalupo, gesturing air quotes, “but when you have someone who’s disabled, it’s ten times harder.”

Incantalupo, 41, will have to drive from the southwest end of Staten Island to the northeast end.  It’s about a 12-mile drive, but Staten Island is notorious for traffic during rush hour, and a winter storm is expected during Wednesday morning’s rush.

The mother of two told PIX11 News that to get her children and a neighbor’s child with whom she van pools to school on time, it is going to take a major effort, and maybe even a miracle.

“With no traffic… [for one daughter alone it’s] 40 minutes to get her there, and then 40 minutes to come home, then 40 minutes to go back in the afternoon for pickup.”

That loss of time — at least two hours — translates into lost productivity during the for the mother who works from home.  “I guess I’ll work at night,” she said with a sigh.

However, she considers herself lucky because she has the flexibility and resources to make the extra commuting possible.  The city has given free Metrocards to students whose school buses won’t pick them up during a strike, and has also offered to reimburse families for the use of livery cars, or to pay families 55 cents per mile if they have to drive their children to school.

For as many as 55,000 families, those options are not viable.

The family of Merieme Rafiek of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is among those families.  “The [only] solution is to keep the bus,” she told PIX11 News.

Her husband needs the family car to get to work at 7 a.m., and can’t be late or miss work.  Their oldest son, who’s 9-years-old and has a spectrum disorder, attends school 15 miles from the Rafieks’ home, on Roosevelt Island.

To get there, Merieme Rafiek said, requires three different subway trains and a bus, if they use public transportation.

However, she also has an 8- year-old daughter whose autism is severe enough that she can’t handle many external stimuli like subways or buses Her school bus really is the only way for her to get to her specialized school.  Since travel options are extremely limited, Rafiek said that she has no choice but to keep her two special needs children at home.

“Mr. Bloomberg,” she implored, “Think about me and other parents also.  We really need the bus!”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg reiterated on Tuesday that he believes the city cannot by law grant the school bus drivers’ union its central demand: that its members receive a guarantee of job security at their current rate of pay which, for some drivers, is more than $25 per hour.

The union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1181, insists that their request for job security is legal.  They say they feel they have no choice but to strike to ensure their demands are met.

The mayor has also said that he wants to renegotiate the contracts of the bus companies that own the buses the drivers use.  Currently, the transportation contracts consume about $1 billion of the school system’s $24 billion budget, averaging about $6,900 per student who rides a school bus.  The country’s next largest school system, the Los Angeles Unified School District, spends about half that amount per student.

The last time there was a school bus strike in New York City was in 1979.  It lasted three months.

If this strike lasts even half that long, child advocates say tens of thousands of students will not receive the education they’re entitled to.

“For those parents, it’s going to be really hard or impossible for [their] kids to get to school,” said Kim Madden, lead attorney for Advocates For Children New York, a children’s issues advocacy organization.  “MetroCards and reimbursement just won’t be enough.”

Her organization is calling on the city and the bus driver’s union to come to an agreement soon.  The organization is also asking the city government to make Access-A-Ride service more widely available for students while the strike is under way.