The Boston Public School system will rely on additional vans for student bus service beyond city limits in order to alleviate the pressure along certain school bus routes during the ongoing shutdown of the Orange Line subway.
The contingency plan was announced during a late Tuesday afternoon Zoom press conference by school leaders and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, as they scramble to provide viable transportation alternatives to families with the new school year just around the corner.
BPS will contract with additional vendors so 70 "transport vans" can take students who live within the city to schools outside the city. That will free up drivers within the city to operate more yellow school buses to account for the Orange Line disruption, said Delavern Stanislaus, director of BPS transportation.
"This [MBTA] slowdown is going to require a substantial number of additional drivers that are available at a moment's notice to support our students by jumping in where trips are running far behind schedule to accommodate the additional strain on the yellow bus system during the Orange Line's shutdown and continuing reduction in MBTA services," she said.
Approximately 4,600 BPS students live close to the Orange Line, a major north-south-running line that stretches from Forest Hills up to Oak Grove, intersecting the city of Boston.
There are 28 BPS schools located along the Orange Line, according to school officials.
The unprecedented 30-day shutdown of the Orange Line, which began Aug. 19 and is expected to last through Sept. 18 to address much-needed safety repairs and other issues, overlaps with the start of the new school year, which is Sept. 8 for most BPS students.
School officials said Tuesday they are strongly advocating for the MBTA to provide dedicated shuttles for some students directly to their schools, although Stanislaus said those talks were ongoing as the agency assesses its capability while it provides shuttles to commuters.
On Wednesday, MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said the proposal is "something we will take a look at."
"Right now we believe we have the buses to run the diversion service," he said at a news conference. "I'd be hard pressed to divert any of those buses for any other purposes."
BPS has already distributed 5,000 free 7-day MBTA passes to school leaders to give to families ahead of the new school year to practice using new transit routes.
It is also allowing parents of seventh and eighth graders to seek waivers so their kids can ride the yellow school bus during the transit disruption. Under a cost-cutting move, BPS kids in grades 7 and 8 starting 2014 were phased out of the school bus system and provided MBTA passes instead.
As of last Friday, 115 families have requested such waivers, according to Stanislaus.
Wu urged patience as school district leaders and city leadership aim to provide bus solutions.
“There will be hiccups along the way and we are going to work as quickly as possible to identify them, monitor the situation very closely, and adjust as fast as we can so they’re resolved day by day by day,” the mayor said.
The transport van plan follows a May agreement struck between the Boston School Bus Driver's Union and BPS's bus contractor, Transdev, which included pay increases for drivers and COVID-19 safety-related terms.
BPS has hired 84 additional school bus drivers out of a goal of 90 ahead of the new school year, according to a BPS spokeswoman. Among them, 29 have a commercial driver's license while 55 are commercial driver's license trainees.