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March 01, 2008  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Rumble in Rochester

by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher


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It’s a case that refused to end quickly or quietly.

Throughout last year, we provided multiple updates on the conflict over the Rochester-Genesee (N.Y.) Regional Transportation Authority’s (RGRTA) route service for local high school students.

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) ruled in January 2007 that RGRTA was providing illegal service for the local school district, displacing routes that had been operated by Laidlaw.

Later in the year, U.S. District Judge David Larimer upheld the FTA’s ruling but, on two occasions, extended the deadline by which RGRTA was supposed to cease its school routes.

RGRTA proposed a new route system to serve the students, but FTA also deemed that a violation of the school bus regulations.

It seemed that RGRTA was down for the count and a victory for school bus contractors was at hand. But if you saw the News Alert in this issue, you may have been surprised to be reading another headline on the case: “Judge approves Rochester transit agency’s new school service plan.”

That’s right — Larimer struck down the FTA’s decision and cleared the way for the RGRTA to proceed with its proposal.

Unfair competition?
As you may know, the FTA’s school bus regulations govern what federally subsidized transit agencies can and can’t do in regard to providing pupil transportation, a practice sometimes known as tripper service. The goal is to prevent unfair competition with private school bus contractors.

“As a tax-paying entity, we do not want to see the taxes we pay being used against us in terms of competition,” says Durham School Services’ John Elliott in our 2008 Contractor Showcase.

That type of unfair competition, known as transit encroachment, doesn’t appear to be rampant at this point. In our most recent national survey of school bus contractors (July 2007 issue, pg. 24), only 20 percent of respondents said that their companies had been a victim of transit encroachment.

However, as Carey Paster of First Student assesses in the Contractor Showcase, “I don’t believe [transit encroachment] to be a widespread issue, but it is a severe issue in those areas that it is taking place.”

High stakes
With that in mind, the Rochester-Genesee case is being watched closely by many contractors, and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) is lending its support to the school bus side of the case.

The stakes are high, since the outcome in Rochester could have a significant impact on other cases of this type. In fact, NSTA noted that Larimer’s latest decision could hinder the FTA’s ability to enforce its own school bus regulations.

As Durham’s John Elliott suggests, school bus contractors need to educate the school districts they deal with and the transit agencies that serve those areas about the FTA’s regulations on tripper service.

One tool that can help in this effort is a brochure published by the FTA in 2005 called “Public Transportation and School Buses.” It can be found online at www.fta.dot.gov/documents/SchoolBusBrochureJanuary19-2005.pdf.


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