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Bus drivers blame Boston schools and contractor for delays, missed routes

(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/FILE)

The Boston bus drivers union, locked in protracted negotiations over a new contract, blasted School Department officials and their transportation contractor in a flier, blaming them for last week’s late buses and uncovered routes that plagued schools that began the year early.

“The hardworking members of Local 8751 are not engaged in work action yet,” the flier, released Monday, stated.

Bus drivers have been working without a contract since their agreement expired on Friday, and negotiations for a new one continued on Tuesday. With the city’s school system gearing up for the official first day of classes on Thursday, many schools and families are increasingly concerned the drivers might strike.

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The union authorized a strike vote in June, but drivers continued working throughout the summer after gaining a two-month contract extension. However, the group, which belongs to the United Steelworkers, indicated in the flier it may take labor action of some sort if it doesn’t get a new contract soon.

“We are an ‘old school’ union, living the motto that ‘If we can’t get our justice at the table, we will damn sure get it on the picket line!” the flier stated.

Officials for the union could not be reached for comment.

Interim Superintendent Laura Perille declined an interview request. “Negotiations between parties are active and ongoing,” the school system said in a statement.” It is always a top priority of the Boston Public Schools to ensure that students are safely transported to and from school.”

Meanwhile, families are becoming fed up with being caught in the middle of the contract dispute and bus service problems that tend to mar the start of every school year.

Julia Meija, founder of the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network, which includes families from the city’s school system, charter and parochial schools, and METCO, said parents are getting the runaround when trying to report bus problems. The schools often tell parents to call the Boston School Department, which in turn tells them to call Transdev, the contractor overseeing the bus fleet, where they are told to call the city, she said.

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“Sending your child to school shouldn’t feel like cracking the Da Vinci code,” she said. “This bus saga happens every year. We need to do better.”

More schools experienced bus problems on Tuesday, although the school system would not release specific details. Two of 17 buses didn’t show up at Boston Renaissance Charter School in Hyde Park, where the new school year began Tuesday. Others arrived up to 45 minutes late, while some families concerned the buses would never come decided to drive their children to school.

Amid it all, one bus broke down before it reached the main entrance.

“The bus driver walked them inside the school to make sure they made it in OK,” said Alexandra Buckmire, head of school. “He had the children hold each others hands.”

At dismissal, all the buses showed up on time.

The school system last week blamed the problem on an unexpected number of driver absences. That caused the school system and Transdev to make last-minute calls for replacement drivers. Yet even though the school system purports to have nearly 750 bus drivers, officials failed to get all the routes covered each day.

At the time, officials said they had 43 uncovered bus routes last Tuesday and 20 on Wednesday due to unexpected driver absences, and that buses ran up to two hours late. School officials have not released any further data.

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The bus drivers union, however, this week faulted Transdev and the school system, charging that Transdev cut dozens of drivers and failed to properly post bids for bus routes this summer, leaving 45 of them uncovered and causing the bus problems last week.

Adding further confusion, the drivers union said, is that the school system’s transportation director abruptly quit last month. (The school system has temporarily tapped the transportation department’s customer service manager to fill the post.)

“The causes for the current crisis are clear,” the flier stated. “Despite repeated demands from the union, Transdev refused to hire sufficient drivers to cover the work, conducted zero training for new hires this summer, and has refused to maintain a pool of ‘hire ready’ drivers to replace retired, sick, or deceased workers.”

The bus drivers union also reiterated its belief that the school system has generated poorly designed bus routes for this fall that underestimate driving times, which will cause buses to run late.

The union is fighting for a cost-of-living increase, affordable health care, disability coverage, other benefits, and well-trained bus monitors for every bus, while it opposes such bargaining proposals as outsourcing work and reducing allotted time for daily bus inspections.


James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.

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