Providence school and city officials are bracing for a planned strike by the city’s school bus drivers Thursday. The city has no back up for transportation.
The district estimated that more than 9,000 students could be affected and will have to find alternative ways of getting to school. The bus drivers’ union, Teamsters Local 251, and the Ohio-based bus company First Student are currently in a contract dispute.
“We’ve looked at taxi drivers, we’ve looked at Uber,” said Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. “The scale of moving 9,000 kids every morning and afternoon through our streets, in small cars, there just isn’t enough capacity in the city.”
Providence School Department Superintendent Chris Maher said schools will be flexible with tardiness policies. The school department will also excuse up to three student absences in the case of a prolonged strike.
According to Elorza, safety is a concern, as many students may be forced to walk to and from school, when they would normally ride the bus. The city is planning to increase police presence around schools in the morning and afternoon.
The school district said last Friday that it had received notification of a strike planned for Thursday. Prior to the official notification, Elorza promised that students and parents would be contacted in advance of a strike.
“So there aren’t kids waiting at a bus stop with a bus that never shows up,” said Elorza. “So we’ll also be deploying our police cruisers and police cars throughout the city, checking at normal bus stop routes, to see if there are any kids just lingering.”
The school department is still required to provide transportation for students with special needs. Elorza said money normally paid to the bus company First Student, will go to other contractors for that work.
Talks between Teamsters Local 251 and First Student with a federal mediator fell apart Thursday afternoon.