Reporting on the school bus strike, the New York Times revealed something that is in equal measure fascinating and unsurprising:
The strike that began Wednesday, which idled more than half of the city’s school buses and forced about 113,000 children to find new ways to school, was prompted by a fight over union jobs. But its true roots are in an attempt to reform one of the most inefficient transportation systems in the country, one that costs almost $7,000 a year for each passenger, an amount so high that many of those children could hire a livery cab for about the same price. By comparison with the next three largest school districts, Los Angeles spends about $3,200, Chicago about $5,000, and Miami, $1,000.
$7,000 per year per passenger? The price tag is the product, the Times reports, of “a morass of good and bad intentions, shortsighted marketplace policies and outright corruption.”
For decades, the city has embraced anticompetitive measures and carried on business relations with an array of bus companies, including some that have been implicated in bribery, been under the sway of organized crime and, in one case, run by a man who displayed a pistol at a negotiating session.
Both union leaders and city employees have gone to prison for shaking down bus companies, offering in return labor peace, advance notice of inspections or approval of lucrative extra routes.
Per year, “busing costs the city $1.1 billion today, compared with $100 million in 1979.” Why is it so expensive?
The day before the start of New York City’s first school bus strike in 34 years, a long yellow bus pulled up at Public School 282 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and the little bodies that popped out could be counted on one hand: Three. The big bus had dropped off part of its cargo earlier, at another school, but in all, 10 children had ridden on a bus fit for about 60.
A similarly large bus pulled up with 17. Finally, a modern-looking bus whose side panel said it could carry 66 children arrived with its passengers: Five children.
“I think in some cases, we have one child on the bus,” said Kathleen Grimm, the city’s deputy schools chancellor for operations.
Where is perpetual mayor Michael Bloomberg in all this?
On Tuesday, on the eve of the strike, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said he wished his administration had begun trying to rein in the out-of-control costs “10 years ago,” but simply could not get to it considering the rest of his mammoth educational agenda. He uttered more self-recriminations after the strike hit at 6 a.m. on Wednesday.
“I look back and say we should have tackled this,” he said.
I would imagine that New York City’s taxpayers agree. Still, as Mark Steyn likes to point out, Bloomberg is far too busy saving the world from firearms, global warming, large sodas, and the provision of painkillers in emergency rooms to waste his time on anything so prosaic as running New York City.