By Jake Pearson
New York City school bus drivers who serve tens of thousands of children were back at work Wednesday after a monthlong strike that forced students — many of them disabled — to take taxis, public transportation or car services to school.
"We're happy to be back," said driver Philip Pan, 57, whose dashboard was adorned with a hand-drawn "Welcome back" card, complete with a picture of a bus.
"We're like a family. We're really close with these kids," said Pan, who's been on the job eight years.
But not all parents were happy. Sadia Awan, 34, ended up taking her seventh-grader to school herself because their bus didn't come.
Her son, Hurrera, has a prosthetic leg. They waited about 90 minutes before giving up.
"I was calling, calling, calling, waiting, waiting, waiting. Nothing," said the angry mother said outside Middle School 88 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. "If he's late, the school's going to go after his academics. It's not good for me, it's not good for him."
Awan also said she had struggled with the online reimbursement process to cover her son's taxis during the strike. They cost $20 a day. "That's rent money," she said.
"I understand the drivers need security but they shouldn't have done it to the kids," said Awan.
Regular schedules resumed on all 7,700 routes serving the nation's largest public school system. Five thousand of those routes were affected by the strike. The city has about 1.1 million children in public schools.
Drivers and assistants known as matrons from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 walked off the job Jan. 16, the first school bus driver strike in the city since 1979.
Union officials called off the strike Friday after leading mayoral candidates promised to address job security issues if elected.
Matron Sandy Cardinale, 56, said her time off the job "was horrible."
"It's nice to be working with these kids again," said the 14-year veteran. "We missed them. I'm so glad it's over."
The city spent roughly $20.6 million in transit cards, taxis and gas mileage to get tens of thousands of stranded students to school during the strike; some still didn't get there at all, schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Monday. But he estimated the city saved $80 million because it wasn't paying bus companies during the strike.