News from the World of Pupil Transportation

Posted on June 1, 2000

Transportation strategies delivered to Head Start

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Building a school transportation program from scratch is a daunting task, but that’s what approximately 75 attendees of the National Head Start Association’s annual conference accomplished during a 16-hour transportation management session held April 24-26 in Washington, D.C. Although most of the attendees already supervise a Head Start transportation program, they were asked to break into groups (based on fleet size and number of children served) and go through the steps of developing a program and managing a fleet. The course was developed and administered by the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI) in Syracuse, N.Y. Kathy Furneaux, a program associate for PTSI, and Connie Draper, transportation driver supervisor for Oswego County (N.Y.) Opportunities Inc., facilitated the sessions. PTSI Executive Director Ted Finlayson-Schueler was scheduled to direct the training, but was forced to withdraw because of illness. Attendees received instruction in legal issues surrounding Head Start transportation, which can vary from state to state. One of the main considerations in managing a Head Start fleet is to ensure that the program complies with “best practices” rather than minimum compliance with existing laws. To that end, it’s critical that Head Start transportation managers stay abreast of evolving safety procedures. Each group was asked to devise a staffing plan that included a list of the members of the transportation team and a job description for each position (e.g., driver, monitor, supervisor and driver trainer). They also discussed methods of recruiting and retaining drivers. Once the staff was assembled, each group created training programs, both for drivers and managers. Many chose 40 hours of pre-service driver training, with 20 classroom hours and 20 behind-the-wheel hours. They also supported mandatory drug testing, annual physicals and first aid training. Managers would receive training from the program director and annual training provided by state pupil transportation associations. In addition, they would receive instruction in subjects such as computers, conflict resolution, leadership, confidentiality, general bus safety and defensive driving. To improve the driver training program, Draper suggested that Head Start operations take advantage of the resources provided by insurance carriers. Many of these companies will contribute instructional material such as defensive-driving manuals to Head Start operators. “Most insurance companies will fall all over themselves to assist with driver training,” she said. “They’re more than happy to help out.” The course also required the attendees to build a fleet. Although the pros and cons of operating your own fleet vs. hiring a contractor were discussed, nearly every group chose to own their buses. Most specified a combination of small and large buses, with air conditioning, automatic transmissions and diesel engines. One group said it would contract out the maintenance of the vehicles; another preferred to do its own servicing and designated a three-month preventive maintenance schedule. The session discussed the basics of route planning. Emphasis was placed on designating bus stops at safe locations. “The main thing is to get out there and look at the stops,” Draper said. Trying to avoid rides longer than an hour is also important, but she added that “the main thing is to design the routes so as not to place pressure on the drivers.” Accident response was another topic of discussion. Draper advised the attendees not to release children to their parents until authorities arrive. And drivers should not comment to the media regarding an accident. “It’s better to have drivers refer the media to a supervisor,” she said. If the accident was preventable, the driver should receive refresher training. The final task of the groups was to prepare a transportation budget. That involves tracking wages and salaries, benefits, payroll taxes, training costs, office and facility costs, equipment purchases, insurance, fuel, and more. Furneaux recommended that managers be prepared to “make a case” for any proposed increases. If more money is needed for driver training, managers need to be prepared to explain why the additional training expense would be in the best interest of the program. The course handbook, “Safe Access to a Head Start in Life: Transportation Management for Head Start Operations,” was written by Jim Ellis, transportation supervisor at Seneca Falls (N.Y.) Central School District and a former training manager at PTSI.

Laidlaw’s stock reeling in wake of setbacks

BURLINGTON, Ontario — Laidlaw Inc., parent of Laidlaw Education Services, posted a $1.4 billion loss for the second quarter, with one-time charges of $560 million on its hazardous waste unit and $834.5 million for its health care operations. Despite the staggering loss, the company believes it can recover by selling assets, reducing debt and focusing on its core bus business. It operates more than 40,000 school buses in the U.S. and Canada and owns Greyhound, the largest intercity bus company in North America. Laidlaw has seen its stock prices plunge to record lows in the wake of financial struggles, including alleged accounting irregularities at Safety-Kleen, a hazardous waste firm in Columbia, S.C. Laidlaw owns a 44 percent stake in Safety-Kleen, which is being probed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Corbeil finishes expansion project

VILLE-DES-LAURENTIDES, Quebec — Corbeil has completed a major expansion and modernization project at its manufacturing facility in Ville-des-Laurentides, Quebec. The $5 million renovation project required the plant to shut down production for six weeks beginning last December. An additional 23,000 square feet was added to the manufacturing and office areas, bringing the total square footage to 140,000. Corbeil officials said the modernization will enable manufacturing to increase its output substantially within the next two years. “The changes we have made were a natural progression of our ongoing modernization program,” said Michel Corbeil, founder and president of Les Entreprises Michel Corbeil Inc. The entire facility was reconfigured and the assembly process realigned to accommodate new equipment and production processes. The most significant improvement was made to the paint facility. Two new paint units were installed, cutting in half the time required to paint buses. The paint improvements will also result in better quality and higher gloss retention on all Corbeil buses. The improvements also have a major impact on the local economy. Approximately 100 new job opportunities have been created with the upgrade and expansion of the Corbeil facilities.

Report: Biodiesel reduces emissions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Biodiesel fuel, made from renewable biological sources such as vegetable oils or animals fats, reduced air-polluting emissions from nine heavy trucks in a trial study. Researchers at West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va., and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., evaluated six trucks with Cummins 855 engines and three with DDC Series 60 engines. They used a biodiesel blend (B35) made up of 35 percent biodiesel and 65 percent petroleum diesel. Engines using B35 experienced a 25 percent reduction in the emission of particulate matter, a 12 to 14 percent reduction in the emission of carbon monoxide and a 10 percent reduction in the emission of hydrocarbons. The emission of nitrous oxide was generally at the same level as in standard diesel engines. “Considerable emissions benefit … can be realized without any penalties in terms of fuel consumption or engine performance,” said the study’s authors. “Although we recommend more tests for biodiesel vehicles, the data obtained in this study indicate that biodiesel has promise as an emissions-reducing alternative fuel for diesel engines.” The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Transportation Technologies. The full report, published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, is available on the American Chemical Society’s Website at Passenger van built to meet small-bus needs

Passenger van built to meet small-bus needs

GOSHEN, Ind. — A 14-passenger school bus built on a Dodge Ram chassis will be manufactured by Starcraft Corp. in Goshen, Ind., and distributed through Dodge dealerships in 27 states. Starcraft officials said the vehicle, called the Dodge SchoolVan, is designed to fill the gap between non-conforming passenger vans and full-size school buses. “With the introduction of the Dodge SchoolVan, there is an affordable and fully compliant alternative to the large school bus,” said Dodge spokesman Jack Warren. According to company officials, the SchoolVan meets federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) for mirrors, school bus pedestrian safety devices, emergency exits and window retention and release, school bus rollover protection, school bus body joint strength and school bus passenger seating and crash protection. The standard model features the Dodge B1500 RAM long wheelbase van chassis with a 36 V-8 gasoline engine, 14-passenger seating, a raised roof for walk-through clearance and emergency egress windows (driver and passenger side). The SchoolVan can be modified to include one wheelchair position. Options include a crossing arm, child restraint seats, roof hatch and rear air conditioning and heat.

International offers 3-day training sessions

CHICAGO — School bus chassis maintenance training sessions by International Truck and Engine Corp. are taking place in nearly 40 cities across the United States and Canada. Attendees receive training in International diesel engines, hydraulic brake systems, electrical systems, power steering systems and maintenance practices. International is offering the sessions through December. The tuition is $550 and includes 24 hours of training (over three days), a training manual and two self-study booklets. For more information, call 800/365-0088.

CASTO campaigns to increase ridership

SACRAMENTO — At the California Association for School Transportation Officials’ (CASTO) annual meeting in April, more than 900 transportation directors, school administrators, school bus drivers, mechanics and other industry professionals brainstormed ways to promote ridership in a state currently transporting only 17 percent of its students. CASTO officials announced that they will be working with the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and have hired a marketing firm to publicize the industry. “I hope for a program in California that could serve as a model for the rest of the nation,” said Mike Martin, NAPT’s executive director. In creating a media program, CASTO members are taking their cue from the national campaign unveiled at last year’s NAPT meeting in Denver, Colo. The NAPT’s campaign revolves around bombarding the media with positive stories and school bus safety statistics. Barry McCahill of [email protected], a public relations firm in Washington, D.C., spoke at the CASTO convention about his efforts to produce news stories promoting the school bus industry on behalf of the NAPT. He recently drafted a press release documenting that students who are not riding the school bus are 60 times more likely to be injured in transport than they are in an act of violence on campus. That story made the front page of USA Today. Other safety issues that reached the pages of USA Today through the NAPT’s campaign are the risk of toys, such as Furbies and Pokemon, dangling from the backpacks of bus riders and the dangers of using vans to transport students. Perhaps the greatest surprise victory for the school bus industry, however, was the controversial coverage of the seat belt issue on The Oprah Winfrey Show in March. Charles Gauthier, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), spoke to CASTO conference attendees about his experiences as the industry representative on an Oprah segment titled “Should You Be Doing That?” Before playing the segment for attendees, Gauthier said, “I was nervous about what would be aired because I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with how it went.” Despite repeated interruptions by Oprah and various audience members, Gauthier managed to explain the merits of compartmentalization and the advantages of riding the bus over using other means of transportation. “All of the facts that we’ve been talking about made it to millions of households,” he said. At the end of the segment, Gauthier challenged Oprah to get involved in the safety of children who are not riding school buses. That portion was aired, and Gauthier is working to get another show with Oprah in which to pursue that topic. As part of the national media campaign, the NAPT has formed the School Bus Information Council (SBIC), an organization aimed at providing school bus facts and industry information to the media. The cornerstone of the SBIC is its toll-free number, 888/FOR-SBIC, which Martin urged attendees to call immediately should they experience an accident that will draw media attention. The SBIC will fax a three-page school bus fact sheet to local media sources so that they will have accurate information at their fingertips when writing about the industry. These fact sheets are also available on the SBIC Website at Not only will CASTO be conducting a campaign similar to the national crusade, but it has also developed other means of boosting ridership. Among these means is the creation of a new category of bus to accommodate the needs of the state’s students. The California Utility Bus, manufactured by Thomas Built Buses, was unveiled at the trade show. Priced at just under $150,000, the 39-passenger school bus with wheelchair lift combines characteristics of transit buses with those of school buses. “This utility vehicle would meet not only the current needs of the school bus, activity bus and mass transit industries, but be designed with enough flexibility to serve future yet undetermined needs,” explained the concept paper for the vehicle. The bus will be used in the California Department of Education’s Bus Driver Instructor Training Program and will be available for special use at schools and other organizations by reservation.

Los Angeles school district pilots electric school bus

LOS ANGELES — The Santa Barbara Electric Bus Works (SBEBW) is developing an electric school bus that will be tested by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Members of the Bus Works team have been involved with the successful Santa Barbara Electric Bus Program, and bring 10 years of experience with electric buses to the project. Paul Griffith, president of SBEBW, says that the bus will use existing electric bus technologies and existing school bus chassis and body suppliers. What will make it different, he says, is that it will offer increased safety, reliability, serviceability and affordability. “The initial deployments of electric school buses have not been successful because the reliability of the product has been unsatisfactory. In our case, we have so many years of experience in working with electric buses that we have a very good understanding of how to make them reliable,” explained Griffith. Rick Boull’t, deputy director of transportation for the LAUSD, says that the quality of this project helped him to overcome his original doubts about electric buses. “Paul Griffith has had 10 years of experience and that gives his plan a lot of credibility,” Boull’t said. “At some point you need to evaluate the environmental impact [of your buses],” added Boull’t, whose fleet also includes 33 CNG-powered buses. The electric school bus, which will debut in February 2001, will be used by LAUSD to transport special-needs students. The bus’ main components will include the battery pack, motor controller, inverter and battery management system. The battery will automatically recharge when the bus is not in use, which, according to Griffith, is an advantage for school buses because they often have a pause in service mid-day. “If you take advantage of mid-day recharge, the range requirements for an electric school bus are very modest as compared to transit buses,” said Griffith. Safety features of the bus include a crush zone surrounding the battery to prevent explosion in an impact. In addition, the bus is programmed to automatically shut down in a collision. “We were looking to optimize the electric school bus for future generations,” said Bill Van Amburg, a former WestStart employee who worked on the vehicle. “Right now these electric buses cost a lot but in the long run, compared to diesel buses, the savings — both environmental and financial — will not compare.” The electric bus is part of a program funded by four entities — the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Advanced Vehicle Program, WestStart-CalStart, South Coast Air Quality Management District and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Though the first bus is not yet in the hands of LAUSD, a second bus is already in the plans — also to be deployed in Southern California.

'Walking school buses' improve safety

Students who live too close to school to receive traditional school bus service can benefit from a school bus of another stripe — the so-called “walking school bus.” The walking school bus functions much like a conventional school bus, following predetermined routes and providing supervised mass transportation. It caters to younger children, generally elementary school students, who are attended by a volunteer escort. It’s part of a greater movement to reduce the number of children who are driven to school in vehicles other than school buses. Not only does the walking school bus improve the fitness level of children, it also curtails traffic congestion around school sites, creating safer passage for pedestrians, bicyclists and school bus passengers. This traffic-calming concept is growing in importance because children increasingly are being driven to school by parents or friends. And few schools are equipped to deal with the attendant traffic. The result is often chaotic, with buses and cars vying for access to schools, and children paying a heavy cost in increased risk of injury. Indeed, that very danger has caused the problem to escalate. Explains Bernadette Kowey, coordinator of a walking school bus program in British Columbia called Way to Go!, “More parents chose to drive because other parents were driving, and they didn’t want their kids walking through that congestion.” Initiatives like Way to Go! offer opportunities for communities to readjust to a more pedestrian-friendly mode of behavior. The program takes a multipronged approach, incorporating pedestrian and cyclist education for students, traffic education for parents and walking school buses and walking pools (which function like carpools). The strengths of such programs are their flexibility and cost efficiency, relying on locally adaptable strategies and parent volunteers. The overall effect of the British Columbia program has been a drastic reduction in congestion (from 25 to 60 percent at participating schools), as well as greater ease of access for those buses and cars that still service the school. “Working with a community, and bringing them along because of all those good reasons to make a different choice, we’re able to introduce more pedestrian and traffic and bicycle education and encourage more walking and biking to schools,” Kowey says. In Chicago, a walking school bus fleet was developed to keep children safe from more than cars. Students are also protected from intimidation in their sometimes-violent neighborhoods. James Deanes, an officer in the Chicago Public Schools, says the program is good for everyone. “Not only do the kids most at risk benefit, but so too do the others, because you have these adults out making sure things move in a smooth manner.” Students, parents and teachers have all received walking school buses enthusiastically. In addition to the positive environmental impact, children get much-needed exercise and crowded sidewalks provide a forum for neighbors to get to know one another. “The only negative response we’ve had is that we can’t do it enough,” Deanes says.

Former STAM director dies of heart attack

EAST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. — Pete Eastman, former executive director of the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts (STAM), died May 13 of a heart attack. Eastman served as executive director from 1973 to 1984, and again from 1990 to 1999. During his career, he also worked for the Governor’s Highway Safety Bureau, coordinating and instructing a school bus driver training course adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Eastman received citations from the governor and the House of Representatives for his contribution to the safety of schoolchildren. In addition, Eastman served as associate professor and department chair of communication studies at Northeastern University.

Collins offers alternative to vans

Collins Bus Corp. in Hutchinson, Kan., has developed a Type A school bus specifically for the activity van market. The 14-passenger Bantam® 5 Activity Bus meets all federal minimum safety standards for student transportation. Steve Adkins, president of Collins Bus Corp., said the activity bus is comparably priced to a nonconforming van. “It’s specifically designed to give transportation directors an alternative to their nonconforming vans,” he said. The bus offers large activity seats, interior storage for luggage and other carry-ons, rear air conditioning and multiple floor plans. Adkins said the bus is available through Collins Bus’ dealer network.

Driver recruitment effort fails

STAMFORD, Conn. — Officials at Laidlaw Education Services in Stamford, Conn., have failed in a bold attempt at driver recruitment. A lump sum of $40,000 was offered to the district’s Parent Teacher Conference (PTC) if 40 to 50 drivers were referred and stayed on until October 1, 2000. “I thought it would be a good idea to take all of the money I would normally give to people as referral bonuses and donate it to the PTC for their referrals,” said David Martinez, Laidlaw’s district manager. Nine people were referred and only one completed training. Susan Nabel, president of the PTC, explained that efforts had been made to recruit more drivers, but that ideas had to be cheap due to lack of funds. Flyers were sent out to parents and the response was slim. “We just took Laidlaw’s standard package and advertised with that,” said Nabel. After 30 days had passed, the project was dead. Outside bus companies were hired through fund-raising money to provide transportation for the students during times when a school bus was not available. Despite the failure of the project, Martinez says he is willing to give it another shot. “I’m always open to entering into similar agreements if I think there might be success to them,” he said.

Transport Canada evaluates pre-stop warnings

OTTAWA, Ontario — Research published by Transport Canada indicates that the eight-lamp system for pre-stop warning on school buses is more effective in curtailing illegal passes than the use of hazard lights or no warning. A study conducted in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1998 (April to June) quantified the effects of school bus pre-stop warning systems on surrounding traffic. The researchers tested three pre-stop signals on the same routes — two- and four-lane highways outside urban areas. The results of the test were clear: buses using the eight-light warning system suffered about half as many illegal passes as buses using their hazard lights (simultaneous flashing yellow turn signals). The buses that didn’t use any warning system before stopping had about nine times as many illegal passes as the buses with the eight-way system. “We were a bit surprised by the high percentage of illegal passes with no pre-stop warning system,” said Dan Davis, a senior regulatory development engineer at Transport Canada. Davis said the results of the study are important because some provinces, such as Quebec, don’t require school buses to employ a pre-stop warning system. Quebec officials recommend, however, that bus drivers use a pre-stop warning — eight-way lights or hazard lights — when conditions are unsafe. It is illegal to use red flashing lights while the bus is in motion. Since the release of the study results, Quebec politicians are said to be considering regulatory changes to require eight-way warning systems. Other provinces, such as Saskatchewan and Ontario, require their buses to use their four-way red warning lights to alert motorists that the bus is preparing to stop.

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