The city’s school district fined bus companies for 188 infractions in the 2016-17 school year, according to a datasheet received by the Paterson Times. That amounts to more than one violation every school day. There are 180 school days.
14 bus private bus companies contracted by the district were fined $72,253 for being late, lack of cameras, drivers without commercial licenses, and failure to have bus aides.
School board members discussed the report in a closed-door meeting on Wednesday night. Some of the members were alarmed by the large number of infractions.
“I find the number of violations disturbing. It’s troublesome considering what has been happening around the bus companies as of late,” said school board member Jonathan Hodges.
“It’s very alarming to me. These are the only reported ones,” said school board member Emanuel Capers.
“Oh my God,” remarked school board member Lilisa Mimms.
Companies with the most violations were A-1 Elegant Tours, 4 Diamond, Sarah Transportation, and Jersey Kids.
A-1 Elegant Tours, which has the most routes, had 48 infractions. 4 Diamond had 34. Sarah Transportation had 27. And Jersey Kids had 23.
U.S. Students Services of Woodland Park which, officials said, will lose its contracts with the district this school year for placing students at risk in two incidents had 5 infractions in 2016-17 school year. All 37 of the company’s routes were put out for bid allowing other firms to snap them up.
31 of those routes will likely be taken over by A-1 Elegant Tours which is owned by Shelim Khalique, brother of councilman Shahin Khalique. A-1 Elegant Tours submitted the lowest bids for those routes.
A-1 Elegant Tours has been caught up in controversy as of late.
School board members went behind closed doors on Wednesday to discuss possible litigation. The owner of U.S. Student Services has threatened to file a lawsuit against the district for losing its 37 routes following two incidents that put students at risk.
Capers expressed concern that the firm with the most violations continues receive more and more routes.
“We have to get rid of these companies that have all of these violations,” said Capers, whose two daughters are bussed to school. “I would hate for my kid to be on a bus with this number of violations and would not want to see any other kid on a bus like that. So, I’m treating every kid as if my own.”
The large number of violations, sometimes the same infractions, suggests some of the firms viewed the violations as little more than the cost of doing business with the district. He called for stiffer penalties, as much as $10,000, against firms that commit violations.
Violations ranged from a paltry $29 to $3,000, according to the report.
Acting superintendent Eileen Shafer has taken a tougher stance this year against the bus companies. She summoned representatives of the bus firms in a September meeting and told them violations will cost routes. This occurred in response to several incidents where students were left on the bus.
“We’re on the violations like never before,” said Shafer on Thursday afternoon. “Wait til you see this year’s.”
The district looks at each individual violation and determines the penalty, said Shafer. She said stiffer penalties won’t be possible this year because the district has already contracted with the firms. However, she said the bid specs may be revised for next year.
School officials provided the same datasheet to the attorney for U.S. Student Services. The firm through its attorney has requested a formal hearing. It unsuccessfully attempted to halt the bid process that resulted in its 37 routes being picked up by other busing firms.
The district has yet to award the 37 U.S. Student Services routes to other firms. School board members will vote on awarding the contracts on Oct. 18th, 2017.
Some officials worry the violations from last year could be used by U.S. Student Services as a weapon against the district in court.