July 12, 2098 — The New York Transportation Museum. At a display called Blue Bird Extinctus, a young visitor gapes at a yellow behemoth, squeezes his doting grandfather’s hand and inquires, "Gramps, what’s that?" The elderly gentleman, amused at the child’s naivete, replies, "That’s a school bus. I used to ride one when I was your age." The child, confused, responds, "Was your jet tube broken? Is that why you had to ride in the . . . school bus?" OK, Isaac Asimov, I ain’t. But you get the picture. This scenario is one of many that could come to pass. In fact, I believe that life won’t change much in the next 100 years. Houses, neighborhoods, towns and cities will look like they do now. And we’ll still be ferrying children to and from school in yellow buses that look like the ones we’re using today. Of course, by the end of the next millennium, things will be very much different. In a thousand years, we will have invented technology that we can’t even imagine today. It’s not unlikely that we’ll have perfected a Star Trek-like transporter that will disassemble people, broadcast their molecular pattern to a distant receptor and reassemble them — all in a matter of milliseconds.
Don’t look too far ahead
My speculations about the distant future of the school bus aren’t worth much. Nor should they be. What we need to focus on is the near future. This industry faces worthy challenges right now. Funding shortfalls, driver shortages, passenger management and road rage, to name a few. Although technology will have some effect on school transportation, especially in the areas of global positioning systems (GPS) and the Internet, this will always remain an industry centered around people, not machines. It’s a relationship business — between driver and supervisor, driver and passenger, driver and site administrator, driver and parent. As you can clearly see, the driver is the hub. To ensure that school buses continue to provide safe and efficient transportation for centuries to come, we need to prevent the school bus driver from becoming an endangered species. If it becomes too difficult to recruit and retain drivers, school districts will find other methods of getting children to and from school and extracurricular activities. We need to find ways to make life easier for drivers. Ergonomic driver compartments, with easy-to-reach and intelligently located controls, are a must. Remote-control mirrors help, as do power doors and air-ride seats. If video surveillance helps the driver maintain order on the bus, then we need to install cameras.
Keep adventure to a minimum
Advanced training is essential. Remember those U.S. Army recruiting commercials that trumpeted "It’s not a career, it’s an adventure"? Often, the task of driving a school bus is too much of an adventure. Training, especially in behavior management, can remove some of the adventure. But there will always be challenges to the occupation. The key is to hire people who have the skills — and nerve — to handle the day-to-day stresses of piloting a large vehicle filled with boisterous children. There should be an emphasis on personal as well as professional growth for all employees, who are, after all, more than just cogs in a machine. Encourage your staff members to develop as individuals. Try to learn something about their personal lives. A family atmosphere helps to reduce stress and build morale. Moreover, try to build a community in which all employees are treated fairly. Emphasize courtesy in all dealings with parents, principals, students and peers. Finally, go into the next millennium with grace, courage and the understanding that life is fragile, fleeting and never to be taken for granted. After all, we don’t know what the future holds.