5-year-old girl was stuck on school bus ride from hell

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Lystra Liu deserves an “A” for fortitude.

The plucky 5-year-old girl endured a four-hour bus trip that took her to every corner of Queens before dropping her off as darkness fell — alone and scared — at the wrong bus stop, her mother says. Her house is four miles from the school.

“Mommy, I really need to pee, I really need to pee. Let’s go home!,” Lystra cried at the end of her ordeal, mom Xingling Chang told The Post.

Lystra was one of the legions of public and private schoolkids whose parents flooded a city hotline with 76,223 complaints — 32 percent more that the 57,575 last year– about late or no-show school buses since classes started, the Department of Education said Friday.

Many complaints came from District 30 in Queens, and targeted Grandpa’s Bus Co., which was hired to take Lystra and classmates to PS 85 and back.

After a Grandpa’s bus failed to pick up Lystra two mornings in a row, she asked the driver for her cell number to stay in touch. The driver refused, so the worried mom put a GPS tracker app on the kindergartner’s cell phone.

On Thursday, Chang started checking the app at 2:20 p.m., when PS 85 lets out.

She thought her daughter had left the cell phone at school because the GPS tracker showed no movement for about 40 minutes, she said.

The GPS route Lystra Liu took on her bus after school.
The GPS route Lystra Liu took on her bus after school.

She called the school. “They told me the driver hit a sign or something and cracked a window,” Chang said. “They tried to fix it up. The school asked her to call for another bus to pick up the kids. The driver refused.”

The bus finally departed. Using the app, Chang saw the bus getting close to her stop on Astoria Boulevard and 31st Ave. So she waited there — and waited for more than two hours, she said. Traffic whizzed by, but no bus with Lystra.

“It went to Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City, Jackson Heights and so on” before circling back to Astoria, Chang said, showing the crazily circuitous route filled with bus stops and red lights. “It was a total nightmare.”

The bus finally dropped Lystra off at the wrong stop — two blocks away.

An ambulance worker responding to a call nearby asked Lystra if she was OK, but the girl was petrified, and didn’t know what to say, her mom said.

Chang ran as fast as she could to the location. “If I didn’t have GPS, I wouldn’t be able to find her,” she said.

When she did, it was 6:59 pm.

“Mommy, I don’t want to take a school bus any more,” she said Lystra told her.

Asked about Chang’s anguish, the DOE said Saturday it is “making adjustments to the route.”

The window cracked before students got on the bus, and kids were not seated near it, officials said. The driver was disciplined, and the incident is under investigation, they added.

District 30 parents have just launched a petition demanding an “immediate solution” to the busing debacle. It says their children, if picked up at all, have been late for school by 15 minutes to over an hour. Children say the drivers seem “lost.” Parents have witnessed buses pass designated stops without picking up or dropping off kids.

Maureen Cushing, whose 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son attend St. Sebastian Catholic Academy in Woodside, said Grandpa’s gave her kids a fright as well.

A Grandpa’s Bus Co. bus.
A Grandpa’s Bus Co. bus.Helayne Seidman

The bus showed up at their Sunnyside stop only two of five mornings last week, both times at least 15 minutes late.

“My kids reported the driver kept slamming on the brakes, and didn’t know where he was going. He asked my son for directions,” Cushing said.

The driver dropped the kids off down the block from the school. “All the kids were walking down the street by themselves,” her son told Cushing. She also objected to the bus’s darkly-tinted windows: “You can’t see what’s happening inside.”

The DOE contracts with bus companies to transport 150,000 children to and from public and private schools. It costs $1.1 billion a year — a staggering average $7,300 per pupil.

Last week, staffers in the DOE’s beleaguered Office of Pupil Transportation said 25 to 30 “temps” take complaints and forward them to the investigations unit, which The Post has reported is mismanaged and overwhelmed, according to insiders.

What’s worse, whistleblowers say, some OPT officials are cozy with the bus companies, The unit goes too easy on removing bad bus drivers and attendants, so companies don’t lose too many staffers — and lucrative routes.

Since 2010 Grandpa’s Bus Co. has reaped more than $204 million in taxpayer funds, the city comptroller’s website shows. A Grandpa’s Matron Co. which supplies attendants for special-needs kids, has collected another $4.5 million.

Grandpa’s is owned by the Logan Bus Co, which has received $361 million since 2010, records show.

The bus fiasco marred the debut of Chancellor Richard Carranza, who has apologized to families and students, calling the snafus “absolutely unacceptable.”

The DOE said it’s working to improve service.

“If there are no-shows on any Grandpa’s Bus Company routes on Monday morning, those routes will be re-assigned to another company,” said spokeswoman Miranda Barbot.

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