The National School Transportation Assn. wound up its annual meeting and convention in Chicago in July, focusing on three major initiatives that will affect everyone in the industry. First, we put the finishing touches on our wish list for reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21). This bill sets the course for all federal agencies involved in funding and planning transportation. Getting our due consideration
During the reauthorization process, Congress will look at many issues besides school transportation. The industry needs to make sure school transportation is not ignored or lumped together with trucking, motorcoach operations, transit operations or other modes of transportation. We will be working with legislators to include research, clarification of language in laws and regulations and other initiatives to ensure the safe transportation of schoolchildren and a healthy industry. Second, we are working on a comprehensive view and description of the industry. Our industry has a powerful story to tell, but our drivers, operators and managers don't get the recognition they need. Just as important, if we don't explain who we are and what we do, we will be the target for single-issue groups. Let's face it, school buses are hard to hide. It's a sad truth that most Americans don't know how successful we are and have been. We will tell this story in the media, on Capitol Hill and at the grassroots level. We will take the initiative to get the good news out. Third, we are expanding our focus. For the past few years - and indeed for much of NSTA's history - we have focused on the Department of Transportation. It's true that many regulations come from the DOT, but at least four other departments have a major impact on our industry - Energy, Education, Commerce and Labor. NSTA's presence in Washington, D.C., has distinguished us. We want to increase our clout and impact across a wider spectrum for the sake of the industry and the operators who are our members. The past year was a solid foundation for these new initiatives. There were two major pieces of legislation. The Carper-Gregg amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act was a landmark. For the first time, transportation was included in the debate on education reform. And, with the passage of the USA Patriot Act, we secured additional protection for our drivers, fleets and facilities. On top of that, two major federal studies helped affirm what we have known for years: compartmentalization works, and school buses are the safest mode of transportation for students. The major advantage is that we have government-sponsored research to back it up. Staying ahead of the curve
These laws and studies are a step in the right direction. We need more proactive legislation and better data that support the industry and our objectives. We will not lose our current focus on the regulations, pending legislation and research affecting our industry. But we also want to take a strategic position, looking to the future and shaping our own destiny. When we set out our three-year plan last year, representation in Washington was the centerpiece. We chose then, as we choose now, to take a leadership role in the debates and in setting public policy. Our focus has never wavered from the children and customers we serve. The three Chicago initiatives are the new foundation for a leadership position for the industry. We enter these current debates with a clear idea of where we should be going, with a legislative plan, with better information and with the tactical approaches to ensure our message is heard.