School buses and funding — School transportation is funded almost entirely by state and local government. The federal government provides no funding source for routine home-to-school transportation or school activity transportation. (In fiscal year 2003, the first federal funds became available for school buses when the EPA provided $5 million for grants to reduce diesel emissions as part of their Clean School Bus USA program.)
As state governments are decreasing expenditures, a larger burden falls on municipalities to support school transportation. Some school districts have turned to parents to pay part of the cost of busing their children, and some have wrestled with the possibility of discontinuing school bus transportation entirely — knowing that such a move would not only present a hardship for many families and increase traffic and pollution around schools, but more importantly, would put students at much greater risk as they find less safe ways to get to school.
In this economic climate, finding the means to make significant security improvements to school transportation systems is difficult if not impossible.
Congress acknowledged the importance of school transportation in the Patriot Act, by specifically including school buses in the definition of mass transportation. But even though all other forms of mass transportation — airlines, rail, transit and intercity buses — have received some federal funding for security improvements, school transportation has received none.
This industry specializes in training. Driver training in particular is one of the highest priorities of every school bus operator, public or private. This emphasis on training is one of the reasons we continue to be the safest form of ground transportation. Our response to the need for greater security reflects that priority: We do what we know best. We develop training programs, we include security awareness and response in our regular safety classes, we work with law enforcement personnel to find effective ways to present the information. And we do it within current budgets, using the carriers’ own funds.
But if we are to make significant improvements in school transportation security, we must go beyond training to capital investments in facilities and equipment. Some of the priorities of the industry:
Professional security-vulnerability assessments.
Fencing, lockable gates and lighting to secure bus facilities.
Video monitoring systems for buses, bus yards and bus stops.
Communications equipment for small and rural school bus systems.
Vehicle locator systems.
FBI background checks for employees.
In addition, TSA has invited the school bus industry to participate in ISAC (Information Sharing and Analysis Center), believing that it would benefit the industry and TSA. We cannot finance an expense of that size on our own; like the American Public Transportation Association, we would need a federal grant to establish an ISAC presence.
These are needs that neither school bus operators nor local boards of education can fund alone. If we are to provide security for the 25 million children transported on school buses daily, we must have help from the federal government. As Mr. Luner testified before the Committee in 2004, “Without consistent application of reasonable and prudent security measures across modes, we risk creating weak links that may drive terrorism from one mode to another.” The airline industry has received $18 billion for security enhancements; Amtrak has received $5.7 billion; the transit industry has received $250 million; and the intercity bus industry has received $50 million. The school transportation industry — providing over 10 billion passenger trips a year — has received nothing. We urge the Committee to ensure that the largest public transportation system in the country, the one that transports our children, is at least as secure as other ground transportation modes.
We look forward to working with the Committee in its continued efforts to provide all Americans with a safe, secure transportation environment.
Increased funding of Clean School Bus USA urged
April 3, 2006
Chairman Thad Cochran
Senate Appropriations Committee
Dear Chairman Cochran:
On behalf of school transportation providers around the country (both public and private), we are writing to seek Congressional support for the maximum funding possible for the Clean School Bus USA program as part of the diesel emission reduction programs funded through the Fiscal Year 2007 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.
The nation’s school bus fleet is the largest mass transportation fleet in the country, 2.5 times the size of all other forms of mass transportation — including transit, intercity buses, commercial airlines and rail — combined. This system is also the safest way to transport children to and from school every day.
Nonetheless, school buses, like other heavy-duty diesel vehicles, emit pollutants that add to regional air quality problems and present particular concerns for the children that ride them. As an industry, we are committed to doing everything we can to make the buses as safe as possible, including supporting new standards for model year 2007 buses that will result in significantly lower emissions levels. Because school districts continue to face increasing budget deficits, however, it will be many years before our existing fleet of buses can be replaced. Therefore, we have been working with EPA and other partners to fund the Clean School Bus USA program, which provides assistance for the retrofit and replacement of existing school buses around the country.
The Administration is seeking $49.5 million for diesel emission reduction programs under the umbrella of sections 791 through 797 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, including funding for the Clean School Bus USA program. While the amount requested is approximately one-sixth of the total authorized for clean school bus and other clean diesel programs, it represents a significant increase over last year’s funding for all diesel emission reduction programs. This increase is fully justified based on studies showing that diesel reduction programs are among the most cost-effective programs available to local communities in addressing pollutants of concern.
We ask that you lend your support for diesel emission reduction programs by providing the highest possible funding as part of the Interior and Related Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2007.