(WSVN) - Several South Florida families are furious after they say their children were left stranded at school by a private bus company. In tonight’s 7 Investigates, the Nightteam’s Karen Hensel says their complaints drove Miami-Dade County to investigate.
With school back in session, big yellow buses are rolling again, but it’s these smaller blue buses that parents say are causing big problems.
David Marchisotto, father: “Right away, there were issues.”
Marchisotto needed help picking up his daughter from her magnet school, about 45 minutes from home.
The family hired Buggy Technologies, a private, Miami-based company advertising “Magical rides to school and back,” but David says the magic quickly wore off.
David Marchisotto: “We started getting a little frantic, so we started calling around to find out where she was.”
On the first day of school, the bus never showed up to pick up the 13-year-old.
David Marchisotto: “She is outside, basically, of the school. You know, the gate is closed at that point.”
A total of 22 minutes after she should have already been picked up, David finally heard from the bus company.
David Marchisotto: “At 2:42 p.m. a bunch of us, myself included, got a text that said that they weren’t going to be able to pick us up for that day.”
Elizabeth Tricoche, Vice Mayor, Bay Harbor Islands: “This is a safety issue where small children are essentially put in danger.”
Elizabeth Tricoche is the Vice Mayor of Bay Harbor Islands and mom to an 11-year-old with special needs. She got the same text.
Elizabeth Tricoche: “It said, ‘We’re so sorry, but we’re not picking up your kids,’ essentially.”
Karen Hensel: “And when was your child to be let out of school?”
Elizabeth Tricoche: “In eight minutes.”
Bianca Hoshina says her first grader was late getting picked up.
When a bus finally came, there was confusion over which bus he was actually on.
Bianca Hoshina, mother: “At one point, I was just like, ‘If I don’t hear back, I’m going to have to call the police.'”
He didn’t get home until almost 5:30.
Bianca Hoshina: “He was a wreck. He was like, ‘I never want to go on a school bus again.'”
In this email to families, the company apologized, saying, “What happened was a case of faulty planning,” but parents who are paying $359 per month one-way or $679 round-trip to and from school are frustrated, saying the company is not meeting its promises.
Their website touts buses with GPS tracking and real time video, but…
Elizabeth Tricoche: “The GPS didn’t work. The video system didn’t work.”
Parents signed contracts. Now, dozens have requested refunds.
Elizabeth Tricoche: “This is a significant amount of money for a lot of people.”
Parents have voiced their frustration in a number of ways. They have posted angry messages on Buggy Technologies’ Facebook page. They have filed complaints with county and state agencies and even contacted a state senator for help.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo: “There’s really no margin for error when we’re talking about children.”
Pizzo is working to get refunds for unhappy parents.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo: “If they forget my fries when I order a cheeseburger on Uber Eats, I get reimbursed. I get refunded right away. We’re not talking about food delivery. This is the transportation of children.”
7Investigates found Miami-Dade County fined the company more than $4,800 over the last month.
Violations include two buses operating without a valid current inspection decal and a driver not having the required chauffeur registration.
Buggy Technologies founder Isabel Berney turned down our request for an interview, but in a statement, blamed the pick-up problems on COVID with “several drivers testing positive last-minute” and a van “repairman not showing up, citing COVID-illness.”
She said only a small percentage of children were impacted, adding, “We regret that Buggy families were inconvenienced by the COVID disruption and offered all impacted parents credit for that time.”
Bianca Hoshina: “She’s advertising like this is a well-run operation. It’s concerning. I got taken for a bit of a ride, literally.”
Some parents are now left scrambling to find new transportation after this bus battle.
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