Chicago Weather: Cold school bus problems leave suburban kids in Park Ridge, Niles, Frankfort, New Lenox with no ride

The cold weather caused school bus troubles for students in Park Ridge-Niles School District 64.
January 8, 2014 4:38:55 PM PST
Many schools were back open Wednesday, including Chicago Public Schools, but some of them could not provide school bus service because of the continued cold.

Dangerous Cold: How to prepare for winter storms, extreme cold | Winter driving tips | Health, safety tips | Protecting your pets | What you need in your car | What you need to do at home | Chicago Warming Centers

The bitter cold in the Chicago area was causing some school buses not to run.

The cold weather caused school bus troubles for students in Park Ridge-Niles School District 64. School authorities say the bus company called at the last minute and canceled service for about 1,800 students. Students at 5 elementary schools, 2 middle schools and a primary service center were impacted in Park Ridge-Niles.

School is out and the kids are walking. The buses here were not rolling Wednesday afternoon for Park Ridge-Niles School District 64. Instead, parents like Allison Simon are picking up their children.

"They all got here and we're all getting them home without a bus. But it's all right, everything worked out okay," said Simon.

The district's superintendent says early Wednesday morning, the district called the bus company to double-check and make sure the buses were rolling. But they weren't.

"I was appalled. Totally unacceptable situation, embarrassed on part of the district for the failure of the bus company to be able to provide such a valuable service to our students," said Supt. Phil Bender, Park Ridge ? Niles School District 64.

The bus company's chief operating officer says the district's call came right when they were discovering the problem.

"The buses for Park Ridge were started and ready to operate on Tuesday for this morning. When we came in this morning, we discovered that some of the parking brakes were frozen. It was totally unexpected," said Kevin Mest, chief operation officer, Illinois Central School Bus Company.

So the district alerted parents.

"By emails, phone, nonstop communication. The district superintendent did a great job by notifying parents early enough and everything else," said Sherri Gricius, parent.

"For me it's no big deal because I'm at home. I was able to drive my kid. I'm sure for a lot of other parents it was probably tough to make arrangements that late," said Goran Barac, parent.

That was the situation down south at Frankfort's Lincoln Way North High School. Buses couldn't start either because of the temperatures, forcing students and parents to make other arrangements.

"It's an inconvenience. I had to call my job and tell them I would be a little bit late. But I guess it's just part of the routine, part of Chicago," said Chris Hayes, parent.

On Thursday, all buses in Frankfort, Park Ridge and Niles are expected to roll.

To put this in perspective, the Illinois Central School Bus Company has 200 busing contracts, this is the only contract they had a problem with on Wednesday. The COO also says they are disappointed and apologize, because he says they take pride in serving the community

It is not unusual for school buses to have problems running when the weather is as cold as it has been.

In a statement provided by the school district, Lincoln Way Supt. Scott Tingley said:

"We followed all the cold weather protocols. Began running the buses Friday during the day, and did that Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, the fuel completely gelled up. So far, we have 97 school buses currently running. We need 127 to service the schools. Hopefully by tomorrow we should be back to normal."

Ironically, the superintendent said it was the newer buses that would not start because the diesel fuel they run on is the most susceptible to gelling in the cold.

Some Chicago-area schools were closed again on Wednesday, but students at Chicago Public Schools returned to classes after having Monday and Tuesday off.

Community organizations and parents shoveled sidewalks and corners on Safe Passage routes on Chicago's West Side for children who had to walk to school.