New York, New York – September 26, 2018. Today a coalition of community, environmental, education and child welfare organizations called on the city to back a pilot program for a worker and parent-owned electric school bus co-operative, as a first step in transforming the broken school bus industry. They were joined by New York City Council Members Espinal, Rosenthal, Rodriguez, Powers and Cornegy.
New York City’s school bus system desperately needs reform. At the start of the school year, complaints about late and no-show buses were up 32% on last year, with some kids experiencing traumatising journeys of three hours or more. Meanwhile the 9,000 buses that private companies use to bus 150,000 NYC kids to and from school run on diesel and gas. Their exhaust harms the environment and human health, especially the health of children who have a faster breathing rate than adults, and whose lungs are not yet fully developed.
The coalition is calling on the city to back a pilot worker and parent-owned electric school bus co-operative as a first step in transforming the industry. The co-op has the potential to improve service, build stronger connections between parents and drivers, reduce harmful emissions, and improve working conditions for drivers.
Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN said: “By investing in a worker coop model with clean buses, the city has an opportunity to channel our public money and services towards the creation of the economy we want to see: where workers have agency and are treated with respect, and families and children have access to healthy, clean and accountable bus services. Our kids are our future and we must protect them.”
Council Member Rafael Espinal (Brooklyn, District 37) has introduced a resolution calling for the pilot program. He said: “Electric school buses are the future of pupil transportation. At a time when our school-busing system is in crisis, we need to look toward environmentally-friendly solutions that make our air cleaner and our kids healthier. With electric school bus pilot programs already underway in some cities in California, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, New York needs to claim the mantle of leadership in sustainability. I am proud to sponsor this resolution and proud to stand with parents and advocates engaged in this effort.”
Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6), said: “NYC’s current school bus system is not sustainable – the combination of ongoing poor service and polluting vehicles is a terrible one for the city’s children, parents, teachers, and drivers. I’m very proud to support the workers and parents who are taking matters into their own hands and creating an Electric School Bus Co-operative, the first of its kind, which will both improve service and reduce pollution. I’m calling on the Department of Education and the Mayor’s Office to join me in backing this innovative and forward-thinking venture, and provide financial support to help it get started.”
New York City spends $1.2 billion a year on private contractors to provide school busing. However, the industry is beset with problems. Buses have older, polluting engines which harm the health of children and drivers alike. Parents often complain that the service is poor and students with disabilities experience real challenges with the bus rides. Under 2% of contractors are Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises.
At the State level, the Governor has committed to invest the $127.7 million that New York has received through the national Volkswagen settlement into electric vehicles. The investment emphasizes replacing old diesel-powered school buses with new, all-electric school buses, and recognizes the potential of cooperative and community ownership models. Now is the time for the City to show leadership by supporting the nation’s first worker and parent-owned electric school bus company.
ATU 1181 President Michael Cordiello said: “The women and men of ATU Local 1181 are supportive of this project because it will jump start the transition of New York City’s school bus fleet to electric vehicles. We know that for drivers, attendants, mechanics and most importantly for the children we care for every day, fossil fuels are harming our health and the environment.”
Council Member Robert Cornegy said: “Worker cooperatives are an incredible way to give the stakeholders in any business more say in how its operations serve customers. Given the well-documented shortcomings of many school bus companies serving our City’s schoolchildren, it is critical we find ways to better empower both parents and drivers to make bussing work better for the young New Yorkers they are meant to serve. We can do better for the children who rely on our buses, and I implore the Mayor and his administration to make supporting this pilot a priority.”
Council Member Keith Powers said: “The City’s school bus system is in need of attention. We have an opportunity for overhaul following this year’s faulty operations, and a green fleet of buses lines up with the City’s broader initiatives to be more sustainable. I commend environmental organizations, advocates, and my colleagues in the City Council for their support of green transportation for students.”
“An electric school bus cooperative governed by workers and parents would mean cleaner air, lower emissions, and safer working conditions for the men and women who bring our children to school every day,” said Shay O’Reilly, Sierra Club Organizing Representative. “The Sierra Club supports this initiative and encourages the City to back a pilot program for this innovative project.”
Co-operatives are an effective model for a fair new economy in which profits are spread equally between members. In this pilot, the members will include school bus workers, parents, and education and environmental advocates. The workers will be able to select to join a union of their choice, which will help raise wages through collective bargaining – this in turn will incentivize good service and improve the quality of rides for students. They will also receive detailed training, and drivers and parents will be better connected.
The city already supports expansion of worker cooperatives. The Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative has received $3 million in city funding to educate, support, and grow them. The electric school bus pilot will harness this momentum in an industry that badly needs reform, while also spurring progress towards the city’s environmental goals.
Parent advocate Joe Williams: “As a parent with two children with special needs and an advocate for children with special needs for over twenty years, it’s time for a change for many reasons. We must improve service for children with special needs, reduce New York’s carbon footprint, and improve the work environment for school bus workers. How can they take care of our kids if we don’t take care of them? I fully support a Social Cooperative for New York School busing, with full electric buses, with GPS, Air Condition in all buses with parents and worker have a voice in the governance of the cooperative.”
Matt Berlin of the Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative with the ICA Group, and former director of school busing for New York City, says: “One of the problems in school busing is that we’ve never had a good mechanism to help families, bus staff and schools work together. A cooperative, where the people who receive and deliver service work together to make it, provides a way for better communication and collaboration.”
New York State Senator Jamal Bailey said: “New York State is a leader in economic development, and now is the time to be forward thinking in terms of development via employee-owned businesses. Forming an electric school bus worker co-op is an innovative idea that can help in aiding the current issues we see with our school bus system while expanding the vision of what economic democracy could look like in New York. Not only could the co-op create greater economic opportunity for potential worker-owners, it could also create greater efficiency in our school bus system, while providing an environmentally friendly alternative to our current transportation system that we could build upon.”
Adriana Espinoza, NYC Program Director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, said, “There is clear evidence that diesel school buses cause serious risks to children’s health and to our environment. As our Clean Buses for Healthy Niños campaign has advocated for, a transition to electric school buses is a feasible and healthy solution. An electric school bus worker cooperative is an equitable and just model that would help New York continue to be a leader on the environment and public health. That’s why we join ALIGN and our coalition of partners to call for a pilot program for the country’s first electric school bus worker cooperative.”
Adria Powell, CEO of Cooperative Home Care Associates said: “Cooperative Home Care Associates, with more than 2100 employees and revenue of $60 million, is the largest worker cooperative in the United States. Principle Six of the Seven Cooperative Principles is Cooperation Among Cooperative, as such we have always supported the growth of other cooperatives and have provided advisory support for the school bus cooperative project since its inception. We are excited to see this project come to fruition.”
Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children said: “Busing has been a consistent problem that we see in our work with families. We need creative solutions and will be watching this effort with hope and interest.”
Justin Wood, Director of Organizing and Strategic Research, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest said: “New York City’s school busing system disproportionately impacts students with disabilities, who are a majority of the bused population and often travel the longest distances to school. By transitioning to a low-emissions bus fleet cooperative bus company model, NYC has an opportunity to improve environmental health and service for students with disabilities and their families.”
Tevin Grant, Evolv-Electric, said: “Most of the current school bus providers have been getting similar contracts for over thirty years without any real competition. If we really want to improve school busing in NYC, we need to support new companies that will provide better service and zero emission electric buses.”
NYC Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee, said: “As we work to reduce our emissions 80% by 2050, we must look towards our transportation sector. Exhaust from diesel-fueled school buses is a major source of air pollution, which causes adverse health effects including respiratory illnesses such as asthma and lung disease. Driving electric powered school buses will decrease emissions and help improve public health, especially for children who ride our school buses every day. Res. 201 works to ensure that electric school bus workers and parents have a hands-on stake in the service through a worker cooperative. This first-of-its-kind worker cooperative in the country would demonstrate our city’s leadership on the environment and labor. I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation and thank Council Member Espinal for his bold vision on this important issue.”
“School buses are a necessity to get kids to school, but they shouldn’t harm kids’ health in the process,” said Samantha Wilt, Senior Policy Analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Electric school buses offer a better way to transport our kids, with cleaner air both inside and outside the bus.”
Center for Family Life’s Maru Bautista: “For the past 12 years the Center For Family Life has supported the creation of worker owned businesses as part of our commitment to developing a more just society. We are excited to support our colleagues who are not only developing a worker owned business but one that will help school children and the environment.”
“The InterAgency Council of Developmental Disability Agencies, Inc. oversees the contracted transportation of 6000 individuals on 400 routes daily thru Metro New York. We’re very excited to be supporting this innovative and forward thinking ICA project. To directly engage families, workers and advocates in a project that is co-creating a safer, cleaner, greener and more inclusive environment, for the individuals we serve, their families and the New York City community a large is truly inspiring. It’s the sound of a more caring, more enlightened future New York community saying ‘we’ve got your back!’” said Glenn S. Godin, Associate Executive Director, IAC, for Transportation.