Public school families expressed fear over the threat of a yellow bus strike on Thursday even as Mayor de Blasio sought to calm their nerves.
The city’s largest school bus union voted to authorize a strike on Wednesday as de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza struggled to gain control over the $1.2 billion system that has been engulfed in chaos since the start of the school year in September.
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 took a strike vote against both Consolidated and Pioneer bus companies as labor negotiations over collective bargaining agreements continued at a strained pace.
Representatives for Consolidated and Pioneer did not respond to requests for comment.
And bus company execs who spoke the condition of anonymity said that they believed a work stoppage was unlikely.
But public school families, many of whom lived through the punishing winter yellow bus strike of 2013, said the possibility of a strike was scary.
“The reaction is ‘oh no’,” said Deborah Uri, of Prospect Heights, whose son takes a bus to the Gateway School in Manhattan each day.
Uri said her son, 10, who has a disability, has been enduring rides of 2-3 hours as the family waits for a new route.
In the case of a strike, Uri, who’s self-employed, said she would take the subway to school with the boy.
“It’s very worrisome,” said Uri. “I have no idea what parents would do if they had offices to go to and bosses to report to.”
City officials sought to soothe worried families, with de Blasio calling the strike vote a “procedural action” at an unrelated press conference Thursday.
“We’re committed to keeping the school buses running, we’re committed to addressing any issues with the companies and the labor involved,” de Blasio said. “We’ve been able to do that for five years, I have confidence in the first deputy mayor, the chancellor, everyone involved to keep doing that.”
But he also called the threat “a reminder that we have to stay focused on these issues.”
One de Blasio administration official pointed out that the union had voted to authorize strikes in 2014 and 2016 without following through on the threats.
And another said a strike vote is a tactic often used to move negotiations forward.
The threat of the strike is just the latest disaster to befall the city’s $1.2 billion yellow bus system this year.
Widespread delays and no-shows prompted nearly 130,000 calls to a helpline as of the beginning of October, a figure roughly 20% higher than the year before.
Amid the outcry of stranded families, Carranza fired one top bus official and reassigned another, who quit two weeks later.
Carranza vowed to overhaul the longstanding contracts held by yellow bus companies widely blamed for problems, but then was forced to extend existing contracts weeks later because the city was unable to find new vendors.
Meanwhile, dozens of new routes designed to address routing problems have gone unstaffed because of a driver shortage impacting the industry.
Education Department officials won’t say how many needed routes are inactive due to the shortage, but bus company execs said as many as 200 routes could be impacted.