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School Buses Bankrupting NYC

New York City is spending a fortune on school buses. The New York Times reports that the city spends an astonishing $7,000 per student each year to bus children to school, nearly twice as much as other large cities.

It doesn’t take too much digging to see why NYC busing is so expensive: A complicated system of rules regulates the length of bus routes, the number of buses active at one time, and how long students can remain on a bus, leading to hundreds more routes than necessary, some of which have only three or four passengers. Add to this a long history of closed bidding for bus companies and expensive legacy union contracts, and you have a recipe for a rapid escalation of costs.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made reforming the school bus system a top priority in his third term, pushing for open bidding in bus contracts and looking to hire fewer union workers. But the bus unions aren’t taking this lying down. On Wednesday a group of bus unions initiated the first school bus strike the city has seen since the 1970s, and they are pulling out all the stops in their fight against the city:

The union also released a graphic advertisement on YouTube showing the mangled wreckage of yellow school buses as a children’s chorus sings the familiar song about the wheels of the bus going round and round.

“When inexperienced drivers take your kids to school, sometimes they never get there,” a female narrator intones, before laying the blame for the strike—and any harm it causes—on Mr. Bloomberg.

Once again, New York is caught in a struggle between a deep-blue political system and the need to get city finances back on track. The unions are shouldering a lot of the blame in this fight, but poorly thought-out regulations are playing a large role as well. There is plenty of blame to go around.

We’re pleased to see the city getting serious about reducing costs of ridiculously expensive city services, although we would prefer it if both sides would look outside the blue box for solutions. A voucher program, in which parents receive a fixed sum of money to choose their own way of sending their kids to school, would probably be cheaper and more efficient than the school bus system—especially in a city with as many transportation options as New York. There may be good reasons why vouchers would be more difficult to implement than we imagine, but the fact that ideas like these aren’t even considered for discussion bespeaks a serious lack of creativity on both sides of this blue civil war.

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