Cracking the Surface of the Private Bus Service
Reading Time: 4 minutes
A bus at 7:00 a.m., then the two train to Chambers Street. Maybe the LIRR to Penn Station and the three train? Perhaps a carpool, or is today the day that you ride the seven train with your friends? Such has been the routine precedent of the “Stuyvesant Student” commute for decades. But now, more than ever, students and parents alike have prioritized a need for safe transportation. As a result, parents banded together to organize a new private bus service for Stuyvesant students: a routinely scheduled collection of coach buses that sweeps Stuyvesant students to various public bus stops and the school.
Since the start of in-person school, safety concerns over packed subway cars and a recent spike in hate crimes have caused many Stuyvesant parents to place their trust in S&J Tour & Bus Inc. to drive students to school. “Personally, my parents wanted [me] to take S&J because they thought it was unsafe in the subway since there are lots of people around and there’s a higher chance of catching COVID,” sophomore Rainie Sun said.
Multiple students have had a positive experience riding the bus. “The people on the bus are really nice,” freshman Brandon Waworuntu said, also noting that he met his first Stuyvesant friends on the bus. Additionally, many students have found the private bus to be more convenient than other modes of transportation as they are able to freely sleep, complete homework, or socialize on the ride. “It’s very easy not having to pay attention to stops,” sophomore Zareen Islam said. “The bus is in the same place every day. If there are delays, they’ll let you know, things like that.”
While the year started off on a positive note, a plethora of issues soon arose for some students. The bus service originally advertised to travel along three routes: the 495 route, the Queens Boulevard route, and the Northern Boulevard route. “One month after school started, they merged the routes of Queens Boulevard and Northern Boulevard, so now the students on Northern Boulevard take three hours to get home instead of two,” anonymous freshman A said.
A claimed that S&J also falsely advertised certain accommodations for their services. “At first, I signed up for the bus service because it was a safer way to get to school without having to take the subway, and the bus company also offered WiFi and snacks, but those promises were never fulfilled,” they said. A also observed clear unprofessionalism among the workers. “The late bus driver would smoke in front of the bus while kids were getting on,” A noted. “After he [smoked], he would be coughing throughout the entire trip without wearing his mask.”
Although these problems could easily be reconciled through communication between customers and the staff, an anonymous freshman B claimed that S&J has ignored parents’ efforts to contact them. “Originally, there was a group chat for communicating with the service staff members and parents, but recently, they disbanded that chat. They didn’t give a reason for why they ended it. They just kicked everyone out one day,” B explained.
After the major platform where customers were able to stay in touch with the bus service was shut down, parents began voicing their concerns to the staff through e-mails. However, all their complaints went unheard. “There were at least 20 people trying to get refunds, but the bus company owner and the affiliates ignored the whole thing,” A said. “The owner told the parents to see them in court instead of actually resolving the issue.”
In addition to all the issues that have arisen with S&J’s service, some students have found that it isn’t worth the unreasonably high price, around $4,000 for round trips annually. “There are people who have extracurriculars, and they are unable to take the regular bus, which means that they won’t be taking as many trips on the bus as other people do regularly,” Sun said. “And [though] they do provide a late bus service, from personal experience, sometimes it doesn’t come on time to the point where I have to resort to public transportation.”
No cost accommodations have been made for students with more unusual schedules. Many students, such as A, paid for the Early Bird package—a deal through which students could sign up for the service early in exchange for a discount—before their class schedule was finalized. “When we paid, I had no idea that my schedule would have eight, nine, and 10 free,” A said. “I have to take the LIRR home, so I feel like it’s a waste of money for me to sign up for this bus company and then not take it to go home. There were no refunds at all.”
There was one day when the bus’s inflexible service became especially apparent. On the day of the PSAT, many freshmen suffered from the bus service’s poor scheduling. While juniors and sophomores took the exam at 8:00 a.m., first period for freshmen started at 12:54 p.m. Despite two separate time schedules, S&J only provided service for juniors and sophomores. “They only supplied the bus for the minority, and they did not provide bus service for first period per contract,” A said. “The majority of the people who take the bus are freshmen, but they only had a bus for the usual time. So people who depended on the bus got to school extremely early and had to just wait for a few hours until school started.”
At this moment, S&J has made it clear that there is no room for accommodations. “The contract was very straightforward. Nothing has been changed,” a worker at the S&J service said. “We’re being as proactive as we can. We send out e-mails every week [and] remind them to send us an e-mail or give us a call if they have any questions or concerns.”
Whether the issues of the bus service are a product of the circumstances surrounding the pandemic or the fault of S&J, numerous students have made their dissatisfaction with the S&J bus service clear. “They’re going to start losing business if they don’t change anything,” A said.