Late-breaking news from the pupil transportation industry

Posted on December 1, 2002

Feds propose new school bus category

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a proposed rulemaking that would create a new category of school buses — the multifunctional school activity bus — that would provide a safer alternative to 15-passenger vans.

This bus could be used in several scenarios, including child care, Head Start and school activity transportation. It could also be used by local social service agencies for transportation of senior citizens, for example. It would be restricted, however, from use in home-to-school transportation.

The bus would not be required to be equipped with traffic-control features such as eight-way warning light systems or stop arms. It would be required, however, to meet all school bus standards for crashworthiness and crash avoidance.

Under the proposal, the bus would have a maximum gross vehicle weight rating of 15,000 pounds.

These buses could be used for Head Start transportation because they would qualify as "allowable alternate vehicles" under the regulations for that program.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Annette Sandberg announced the proposal Nov. 1 at the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C. (For more coverage of NASDPTS' annual meeting, see feature story.)

"This regulation will allow institutions to take advantage of the safety benefits associated with school buses, which are, by far, the safest means of transporting our children," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge.

NHTSA noted that in June 1999 the National Transportation Safety Board recommended that the 50 states and the District of Columbia require that all vehicles carrying more than 10 passengers and transporting children to and from school and school-related activities, including, but not limited to, Head Start programs and childcare centers, meet the school bus structural standards and enact regulatory measures to enforce compliance with the revised statutes.

NHTSA believes that if finalized, this rule would make it easier for institutions with the responsibility for transporting children to use vehicles that provide a higher level of safety than fully loaded large passenger vans.

In addition, NHTSA officials said the proposed rule, if approved, could make funding for the purchase of the school buses available to Head Start programs and coordinated transportation providers through the Federal Transit Administration.

The complete proposal is available at

To comment on this proposed rulemaking, visit and click on "Simple Search." To search by docket number, type in “13704” and press "Search." Comments will be accepted until Jan. 3, 2003.

N.J. bus contractor's new murder trial ends in mistrial

VERO BEACH, Fla. — Alan Mackerley, the New Jersey school bus contractor who was convicted in 1998 of killing a longtime business rival, had his conviction overturned, forcing a new trial that subsequently ended in a mistrial on Nov. 10.

In both trials, Mackerley, who owns Byram Bus in Hopatcong, N.J., was alleged to have used his then-girlfriend Lisa Costello to lure rival Frank L. Black of Andover, N.J., to south Florida under false pretenses, only to shoot him to death and dispose of his body in the ocean.

Black, who owned Black Bus Co. (which was later sold to First Student Inc.), was last seen alive on Feb. 24, 1996. Mackerley was convicted in February 1998 of first-degree murder and kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Last year, Mackerley was granted a new trial after his convictions were overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, which held that the verdict couldn’t be supported because it was never proven that a murder occurred. Black’s body was never found.

During the recent three-week trial held in Vero Beach, Fla., Mackerley testified that Costello was the one who killed Black, hitting him on the head with an exercise weight in Mackerley’s Stuart, Fla., home. Mackerley said he helped to cover up the slaying, but that he was not present during the killing.

After several days of deliberations, the jury deadlocked, with 11 jurors holding for a guilty verdict and one holdout for not guilty. Prosecutors and Black’s family were disheartened by the outcome of the trial. “Obviously, we are shocked,” Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl told a local newspaper. “We felt the evidence was overwhelming and obviously the vast majority of jurors agreed with us.”

Prosecutors said they would retry the case. In the meantime, Mackerley will continue to be held at Martin County jail in Florida.

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