Updated 01/08/14 – 1:45 p.m.
(CBS) — Some school bus companies had problems getting their vehicles running Wednesday morning, after more than two weeks of sitting idle, often in subzero temperatures.
WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports in Niles-Park Ridge District 64, the superintendent said the problem was made worse by the bus company’s failure to notify him sooner that the district would have no bus service Wednesday.
In a statement on the district’s website, Dr. Philip Bender called the situation “completely unacceptable.”
The district said students who ride the bus would not be considered tardy if they were late to school on Wednesday.
“Our schools are committed to working with each and every family concerning this situation,” Bender said. “The District apologizes to parents for this completely unacceptable issue with our bus company. We are doing everything possible to correct the issue and will keep you updated throughout the day.”
Bender said the district contacted the bus company – Illinois Central School Bus – on Tuesday, but wasn’t told until Wednesday morning that, due to the cold and a shortage of drivers, there would be a very limited number of buses.
Left with little time to determine which routes would have buses, all service was canceled, Bender said.
“Generally, we would know this ahead of time, but to learn this just a few hours before the start of school was just absolutely, totally unacceptable in my opinion,” he said.
A total of 1,800 students at District 64 schools in Niles and Park Ridge ride the bus to school.
The bus company’s chief operating officer, Kevin Mest, apologized for the situation, which he said was out of its control.
He said the buses were working Monday and Tuesday, but early Wednesday, staff discovered multiple malfunctions – including frozen parking brakes, gelling fuel, and other issues. The company also faced a shortage of drivers.
Mest said it was a disappointment to the company, and he apologized to those who were inconvenienced.
He said District 64 was the only district affected, out of 100 served by the company. He said they’ll be fully prepared with buses and drivers on Thursday.
In addition to the problems in District 64, CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports high school students in Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 did not have school buses on Wednesday, because many of them would not start in the cold.
Thirty of the district’s 127 buses would not start. Officials said newer diesel buses were most affected by the cold; older diesel buses were able to start without much of a problem.
In light of the problems, the district used the buses for local elementary school kids instead. High school students from six schools had to find their own way to class.
Britney Kopec, a student at Lincoln-Way East High School in New Lenox, said it was “kind of crazy” that the school stayed open without school bus service.
“A lot of kids come that way, and it’s just kind of crazy,” she said.
Jeanne Craft, a Lincoln-Way parent, said it was “unbelievable” that there were no school buses on Wednesday.
She said it’s a “very big problem. There’s a lot of working both parents, and getting these kids to school is a big problem.”
Craft said she was worried about students left to walk to school in single digit temperatures, with a lot of snow still on the ground, and not many sidewalks, meaning many kids had to walk in the street to get to school.
Any student unable to make it to school in Lincoln-Way would be given an excused absence.