Throughout the 2019–2020 school year, our new We Are DOE series will highlight some of the everyday heroes of NYC’s public schools. Featuring a cross-section of the DOE’s 140,000+ employees across the five boroughs, We Are DOE will showcase some of the many unsung heroes who help keep the largest school system in the country running daily.
To kick off our first-ever We Are DOE feature, please welcome school bus driver, Fred Sinclair.
“I prefer driving the ramp wagon to the general education buses because you are responsible for a much smaller number of children and can really get to know them and their families,” says Fred Sinclair, a New York City bus driver since 1976 who has spent the past two decades ferrying students in wheelchairs to and from their schools.
This September, Fred Sinclair begins his 43rd year on the job, but he’s in no rush to retire because he finds the work so gratifying. The vehicle Fred drives can carry four students in wheelchairs, as well as an “escort” who works with him to help secure the children on the lift that raises them into the bus. At each of their stops, they chat with family members who usually assist them in the transfer process.
“You really bond with the students and the parents,” Fred says. “I have special feelings for them because for a lot of the parents, the only break they get is when you take their children to school. So of course you go out of your way to facilitate things for them.”
Fred works for the Consolidated Bus Company, which is one of several the DOE contracts with to transport 180,000 students. A total of 13,000 bus drivers serve the City’s schools.
Fred has been around longer than almost all of them because he loves what he does and the relationships he has formed. “The parents tell me a lot how much they appreciate me,” he says. “They are like a second family to me and me to them. If you’re nice to them they’ll be nice to you, like everyone else.”
“You really bond with the students and the parents. I have special feelings for them, because for a lot of the parents, the only break they get is when you take their children to school. So of course you go out of your way to facilitate things for them.”
– Fred Sinclair, Bus Operator
Fred says the biggest challenge of the job is contending with snow in the winter, which can make it difficult for the wheelchair lifts to descend low enough for the children to board them. Fred, his escort, and family members often have to kick away at the snow to create a workable passageway.
“We need to get the children to school, so you do everything you can to make it work. We always manage to get them aboard,” Fred says.
Since starting in 1976, Fred says he has seen all kinds of improvements in the school system’s buses. “Now all the general education buses come with air conditioning, which we never had before. The seats when I started were low to the ground and had metal backs. Now they are high with cushioned backs, so if you stop suddenly, the children won’t get bumps on their head. The wheelchair lifts work much better too. Every year the buses improve and make my job easier.”
We thank Fred and the 13,000 other bus drivers who serve our City public schools.
Together, We Are DOE.