NYC to pay school bus companies $106M for COVID-19 idling

The city will pay school bus companies $106 million for two of the months in which they stood idle during the COVID-19 shutdown, officials told The Post.

And in a massive new deal, the cash-strapped city will be on the hook to pay bus companies at least 43% of their contracts through 2025 if schools close for more than five days in a row.

The taxpayer cost for buses when they are not transporting kids could add up to more than $500 million of the $1.2 billion a year in contracts during a lengthy school closure due to the pandemic or other major emergency.

The money is supposed to go for fixed costs such as utilities and driver benefits, such as pension contributions, officials said.

“We are required by law to provide bus service to our 60,000 students with disabilities, and tens of thousands of additional New York City children, including those in shelters, rely on us for transportation to and from schools,” said Danielle Filson, a city Department of Education spokeswoman.

“These contracts, the vast majority of which were put into effect during the previous administration, must be maintained to ensure we can restore services without interruption.”

Mayor de Blasio shut the schools in March amid the COVID-19 outbreak. After The Post reported that the city planned to spend $700 million on idle buses through the end of the school year, the city abruptly stopped payments in May.

School buses sit idle in Brooklyn during September.
School buses sit idle in Brooklyn during September.Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

Officials said Saturday the city would have owed the companies 85% of the cost during the shutdown, or $237 million for May and June, under the contracts. Instead, it is paying 40%, claiming a savings of $167 million.

But the city did not try to use a clause in the contracts that could have freed the city from its obligations during an epidemic, quarantine or other such emergencies.

Leonie Haimson, an education advocate and DOE budget watchdog, questioned the new deals, approved last week by the Panel for Educational Policy, whose members are mostly appointed by the mayor.

“Without more transparency about the rationale for these controversial contracts, it is impossible to know why the DOE is willing to sacrifice up to half a billion dollars per year in taxpayer money to busing companies through 2025, whether their buses are running or not,” Haimson said.

“This seems highly irresponsible, especially given the fiscal crisis NYC is facing, which could lead to years of damaging budget cuts to our schools.“

DOE and City Hall officials did not respond to the criticism.

Michael Cordiello, president of ATU Local 1181, which represents bus drivers, attendants and mechanics, said all 14,000 furloughed in May have been offered their jobs back. They collected unemployment payments during the shutdown, he said.

Read More: NYC to pay school bus companies $106M for COVID-19 idling

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