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February 14, 2013  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Hurricane Sandy: the impact on NYC's school bus fleets

Last fall’s massive storm on the East Coast created a surge of challenges for student transportation in New York City, from flooded bus yards and offices to fuel and equipment shortages. Here’s an overview of the crisis and how the city’s Office of Pupil Transportation responded.

by Kevin Jenkins; Photos by Sherry Concepcion


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Damaged underground fuel tanks in many yards exacerbated citywide fuel shortages.
<p>Damaged underground fuel tanks in many yards exacerbated citywide fuel shortages.</p>

Surge in service demand
OPT also had to contend with issues beyond fleet and yard damage. Although schools reopened on Nov. 3, more than 77 school buildings remained closed due to flood damage, electrical failure or accessibility issues.

Students from these schools who had previously used the now-crippled public transit system to get to school suddenly required yellow school bus service for the first time. With many companies struggling just to provide service to their previously contracted routes, approximately 21,000 additional students from closed schools now required service to alternate sites.

Though the bus vendors rallied their resources to service much of this increased demand, OPT also utilized private coach services in some areas.

Yards in Coney Island suffered from beach sand deposits, which damaged facilities and equipment and required cleanup before the yards could be used again.
<p>Yards in Coney Island suffered from beach sand deposits, which damaged facilities and equipment and required cleanup before the yards could be used again.</p>
Fuel shortage
Finally, fuel became a critical issue. All of NYC struggled with a serious gasoline shortage following the storm.

Although many bus yards have underground fuel storage tanks, most in the inundation areas were destroyed by salt water. For these companies, this meant that even yards able to regain electrical power and clear away debris were still unable to fuel their fleets.

To deal with the citywide fuel shortage, NYC used a decommissioned airport (Floyd Bennett Field), managed by the National Guard, as an emergency fueling station for critical service vehicles, including school buses.

In some yards, buses were destroyed when salty floodwaters sparked vehicle electrical fires.
<p>In some yards, buses were destroyed when salty floodwaters sparked vehicle electrical fires.</p>

Quick response
In a remarkably short time, NYC’s yellow school bus service was up and running.

“We’re proud of the work done by OPT in response to Hurricane Sandy,” said Eric Goldstein, chief executive of the Department of Education’s Office of School Support Services, which oversees OPT. “Both staff and management worked diligently to re-route closed schools, find alternate assets to replace damaged and destroyed fleets, and even served as volunteers at shelters, all while assisting parents and school administrators in adjusting to a radically altered school bus environment.”    


Kevin Jenkins is a GIS analyst for the New York City Department of Education, Office of Pupil Transportation.

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