Thousands of parents are scrambling for alternate means to get their children to school on Wednesday as the school bus drivers union promises a strike in the morning.
Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union announced Monday it would strike by morning if there was no resolution on a dispute over new contracts. Some 152,000 children -- or about 14 percent of the student population -- take the bus. About 54,000 of them are disabled and face extra hardships in trying to find ways to school.
A line of buses carrying students in wheelchairs waited outside Public School 138 in Manhattan's Chelsea section Tuesday morning.
Driver Henri Michel said bus matrons have to carry some of the children from their third- or fourth-floor apartments and put them on the buses. He worried what would happen to those children if there's a strike.
"Is a yellow cab going to go upstairs and get the kids?" Michel asked. "No, a yellow cab is going to wait outside. I don't know how these kids are going to get to school."
The city also began passing out free MetroCards Tuesday for children to take mass transit to get to school.
That's not much of a solution for many families.
Grandmother Janet Balmes said it's ridiculous to expect her 5-year-old grandson would take a city bus to school.
"I don't let him walk to the corner by himself. I'm gonna put him on a city bus to go to school? I'm gonna let him get off, cross the street and go to school? Not in this lifetime," Balmes said.
In Queens, mom Miriam Aristy-Farer volunteered to walk children from the A train to their school -- her contribution to ease the collective pain that parents will experience Wednesday.
"It's putting the pressure on people who don't make a lot of money to being with, and asking parents to choose between safety and money," she said.
Some parents were concerned a prolonged strike could affect their livelihoods.
Angela Peralta of Staten Island has two daughters who take buses to two different schools. She's made car pool arrangements for one daughter and will drive the other one herself. That means she'll have to leave work early to pick her daughter up.
"I hope this doesn't go on very long," Peralta said. "I'm afraid that one of these days I'm going to walk into work and they're going to say, 'You know Angela, enough is enough.'"
Parents or guardians of younger children also can get the free Metrocards.
The union and the city have been battling over how new contracts are being drawn up for a set of bus routes. The city wants to cut transportation costs and has put about 1,100 bus contracts with private bus companies up for bid. The union is decrying the lack of Employee Protection Provisions, saying without the so-called EPPs, current drivers could suddenly lose their jobs once their contracts are up in June.
Mayor Bloomberg said at a press conference Monday that the union wants job protections the city cannot legally provide. Union President Michael Cordiello said that claim was inaccurate.
"We know it is not illegal to put it in the bid," he said Monday. "We will continue to push for resolution, but we cannot negotiate from a position of inaccurate information."
The state Court of Appeals in 2011 barred the city from including EPPs because of competitive bidding laws. Hence, the mayor said, the city cannot accept the union demand for an EPP clause.
"Let me be clear: the union's decision to strike has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with job protections that the city legally cannot include in its bus contracts," Bloomberg said in a statement. "We hope that the union will reconsider its irresponsible and misguided decision to jeopardize our students' education."
Marc Santia and Pei-Sze Cheng contributed to this story