School Buses, Con Ed Are Town Hall Issues
Turmoil, present and past, took center stage at the Museum of the Moving Image. The drama was fueled by midwinter changes in school bus routes last week and Con Edison's performance in the power outage last summer.
"What could be done to avoid and repair the damage done by the cutting of school bus routes?" asked Tony Barsamian, publisher of the Queens Gazette.
Barsamian posed the initial question at a town hall meeting. Held on February 1 this year, the annual event is jointly sponsored by Assemblymember Michael Gianaris and the United Community Civic Association (UCCA). The Queens Gazette is also a co-sponsor.
A panel of both elected and agency officials from state and local governments, including state Senator George Onorato, Borough President Helen Marshall and Gianaris, answered questions from citizens for three solid hours. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown also spoke to the audience. Representatives of City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. and Congressmember Carolyn Maloney were also present.
It's just not acceptable for a child 6 years old to try and struggle through the [public transit] system with a MetroCard," said Barsamian.
On Monday, January 29, the Department of Education (DOE) instituted a new system of bus routes that has affected 100,000 students in both public and private schools. An estimated 7,000 school children, some in kindergarten, have been denied school bus service in the cost-cutting move. According to a report in the February 2 New York Daily News, children as young as five years old were issued MetroCards and told they were no longer eligible for school bus service.
"We are addressing each situation," said Dr. Philip Composto, superintendent for District 30 schools, advising any parent with a concern or problem to call 311. "The bottom line is $12 million was saved (from the consolidation of school bus routes) but you're right, I'm a father (too)," he said. "Hopefully, things will improve in a week or so."
Alvarez and Marsal, a private consulting firm hired by DOE, recommended cutting 116 routes they said were underused. But when the changes went into effect on January 29, more than 13,000 parents called in a single day to complain. Through February 1, more than 20,000 parents have complained.
"I was distressed to hear that a 6-year old had to change buses twice with a MetroCard," said Borough President Helen Marshall. Referring to the consultant's recommendations, she said, "I suggest that they were wrong. In the end they've made a lot of children and their families worry."
Concerning the responsibility for the power outage last summer, Gianaris referred to the 60-page study a state Assembly task force he was on had released on January 29. "Con Ed should have competition," he said. The task force asked that the Public Service Commission (PSC) review Con Ed's operating certificate periodically and allow for competing companies to apply for the right to distribute power in the city. "Right now, it's Con Ed or nothing," Gianaris said.
Gianaris also said that reimbursement rates, especially for businesses, should be increased and revised to cover all economic losses.
"We've got to make Con Ed more accountable," Onorato said. Fines should be levied."
A report issued by the Public Service Commission on January 17 said a failure by Con Edison to adequately maintain, operate and oversee its electrical network was the overriding cause of the nine-day ordeal last July. The PSC also concluded that 174,000 people in Western Queens were affected, 70,000 more than previously thought. For the first three days of the blackout, Con Edison said no more than 8,000 people had lost power.