As we head into the 2003-04 school year, I'd like for everyone to start off on a positive note. Admittedly, that’s not an easy task given the deflating press reports about school transportation over the past several months.
We all know that the economic downturn has created significant challenges for many school bus fleets. Ensuing budget cutbacks have taken a toll on the industry, in many cases requiring operators, public and private, to resharpen already-sharp pencils.
As reported in the media, these budget cutbacks have forced some school boards to reduce service, always an unpleasant task and always certain to roil parents and the community. In some cases, bus drivers, mechanics and other transportation staff have been laid off. In other cases, service levels have been maintained, but only by dipping into funding reserves, freezing salaries or implementing parent-pay programs. Obviously, none of these scenarios is desirable.
It’s our challenge
But we can't do anything about outside factors, economic and otherwise. We need to focus on bringing a positive attitude to the workplace every day. Children who ride the bus shouldn’t be burdened with the sometimes harsh fiscal realities that affect the industry. That’s our challenge, not theirs. What they need is a safe, efficient ride provided by drivers who have received the proper training, the right equipment and all the encouragement and motivation that we can give them.
The school bus industry has so much to be proud of. Our safety record is second to none. We transport more than 24 million children between home and school each day. Millions more ride school buses for field trips or athletic events. With approximately 450,000 yellow school buses plying the roads each school day in the United States, it’s the most impressive transportation fleet on the planet!
In my opinion, the yellow school bus is a national treasure and never has gotten its due. To the average citizen, a school bus is a necessary but inconvenient fellow traveler on the highway. Few of these citizens are aware of the industry’s incredible safety record and the challenges it faces on a daily basis.
Even the millions of children who ride school buses are unaware of their good fortune. But one day they will look back on their bus passage with nostalgia and probably will have strong memories of their favorite driver and, of course, their least favorite. Try to make sure that their memories are pleasant ones.
Challenges all around
Let’s not forget that the economic downturn has also impacted the manufacturers of buses and their suppliers. Like you, they’ve had to absorb some of the pain created by funding shortfalls. When this happens, it’s tough for the industry because of the symbiotic relationship between school bus operators and the supplier community. What hurts one also hurts the other.
Once the economy recovers and education funding levels return to normal, you should push for the return of every cent that might have been cut from your budget. And don’t forget to invest in new equipment. Not only will this reduce your maintenance costs and improve your fleet’s overall safety, it will allow our bread-and-butter bus manufacturers to improve what’s already the safest vehicle on the road today — the yellow school bus.
Hope you’ve had a great summer!