RE-INVENTING THE SCHOOL BUS-INESS

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Drive to change. (BILLNOLL/GETTY IMAGES)

Reinventing the School Bus-iness

BY JOHN SAMUELSEN

DANIEL GARODNICK

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Monday, July 17, 2017, 5:00 AM

For years, the yellow school buses traveling New York City streets have had parents, elected officials — and even school bus workers — seeing red.

The Board of Education pays more than $1 billion a year to private bus companies that have little incentive to upgrade or improve service. The buses are prone to breaking down, lack air-conditioning and spew diesel pollution that harms our planet. Concern about wages prompted the de Blasio administration to subsidize the wages of bus drivers through the School Bus Drivers Grant Program — shelling out tens of millions of dollars through a program of questionable legality that skirted the city’s procurement process by rewarding the very contractors that were willing to pay their drivers less. Even with the program, many bus drivers, mechanics and on-board monitors are still struggling to make ends meet.

There is a better route forward.

The city’s Transport Workers Union Local 100 — yes, the same men and women who run city buses and subways — are proposing a pilot program that will demonstrate how New York City can ensure better school bus service, reduce pollution, give parents a seat at the table and create good union jobs with solid wages, affordable health care and good pensions.

Here’s our plan. Let’s establish a unionized, worker-owned cooperative to transport students in non-polluting (and air-conditioned) electric school buses. For the pilot, we envision the worker cooperative entering into a contract with the Board of Education to provide service on approximately 15 existing routes that are not permanently assigned to any private company. !

Why electric buses?

There are approximately 9,000 diesel and gas-powered school buses traveling along thousands of school bus routes in New York City. These buses emit tons of pollution into our environment and contribute to global warming.

A group of leading scientists last year outlined what was in store for our city in the coming decades unless the burning of fossil fuels is curbed: By mid-century, the number of heat waves per year could more than triple, the number of days over 90 degrees annually could double, and the sea level could rise by nearly two feet. By 2100, the city’s flood zone could cover 99 square miles.

It’s 2017 — long past time the nation’s biggest city to adopt an Earth-friendly alternative. Electric buses are made in New York State, and a contractor providing bus service in Copiague on Long Island started using all-electric buses in September.

A pilot program utilizing all-electric buses could support local manufacturing and the creation of much-needed blue-collar jobs in the region. If New York City starts to shift towards electric school buses, more manufacturers would look to set up shop in the state. !

Why a worker cooperative?

Establishing cooperatives — where the workers themselves own the business — is a smart way to address the daunting problem of income inequality. Instead of enriching faceless investors in multi-national corporations or a small group of individual owners, profits are directed toward ensuring that workers are paid good wages and benefits on which they can raise their families. The workers themselves have strong motivation to deliver a good product: job security and a better quality of life.

City Hall has already recognized the personal and societal gains worker cooperatives offer. Two years ago, the city’s Department of Small Business Services, along with partner organizations, launched the Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative. With more than $3 million in funding provided by the City Council, the it has been providing technical, financial and educational support to help create or sustain worker cooperatives.

In both fiscal year 2015 and 2016, nearly 50 worker cooperatives were created or assisted by the initiative, including a grocery store in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; a catering company in the Bronx; a landscaping business in Queens, and a janitorial services outfit in Manhattan.

“Worker cooperatives have the potential to provide entrepreneurs with access to meaningful and stable employment and improve the economic landscape across New York City,” Small Business Services Commissioner Gregg Bishop and City Chief Procurement Officer Michael Owh wrote in the latest SBS report on the project.

A board of trustees would govern this school bus cooperative. Workers would elect representatives, with some seats being set aside for other stakeholders, including parents. The board would hire a chief executive officer and staff to handle the day-to-day operations, while families would have a real voice and direct access to the highest level of the operation.

The yellow school bus situation has been an intractable mess for far too many years. It’s time to give the green light to a solution that’s better for kids and workers alike. !

Samuelsen is international president of the Transport Workers Union. Garodnick represents Manhattan in the New York City Council

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