Company cuts Elizabeth Forward bus routes as contract showdown continues
More than 350 children in the Elizabeth Forward School District won’t be able to take a bus to school this week as the contract spat between the district and its transportation provider continues with no end in sight.
Pennsylvania Coach Lines is under court order to continue transporting students while negotiations are ongoing. However, the company announced Monday that it is cutting three of the district’s 26 bus routes effective immediately.
“We don’t have any spare drivers here to take the runs,” said Pennsylvania Coach Lines President David Sunstein. “It’s been a very tenuous situation this whole time.”
Sunstein said he believes cutting the routes does not violate the court order, because his company has been working to the best of its abilities to transport students.
Pennsylvania Coach Lines provides transportation services to more than 20 school districts. It would take about 20 more drivers than the company has to provide adequate bus service to Elizabeth Forward, Sunstein said. He doesn’t want to hire those drivers until a contract agreement is reached.
In the meantime, drivers have been working overtime to cover Elizabeth Forward’s routes. Sunstein said he has been driving buses himself to comply with the court order.
Elizabeth Forward has more than 2,400 students.
District Superintendent Todd Keruskin said children whose bus routes were cancelled had to find other ways to get to school Monday. He declined further comment, except to say the district is waiting for a meeting with Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Christine Ward to discuss the future of the court order.
The dispute between the district and Pennsylvania Coach Lines started in August. The district said the bus company was violating its contract by refusing to transport students. The bus company said they had no contract with the district.
A previous contract between Pennsylvania Coach Lines and Elizabeth Forward expired in June. The school board voted in October to extend that deal through June 2023.
However, Sunstein said his company and the school district had never come to an agreement on the extended deal, and that the contract approved by the board didn’t exist.
“There is no signed contract, and there never has been a signed contract,” he said.
Elizabeth Forward delayed the start of school by several days as negotiations failed. Students were granted a temporary reprieve when Ward ordered PA Coach to transport students until Sept. 13. Last week, Ward extended that order, telling PA Coach to continue driving students indefinitely.
Negotiations have not been going well, according to Sunstein. He said the district is offering a one-year contract, but he wants a longer deal to justify the cost of hiring new drivers and buying more buses.
Another negotiation session has been scheduled, but won’t happen for several weeks, he said.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jacob at 724-836-6646, [email protected] or via Twitter .