News from the World of Pupil Transportation

Posted on August 1, 2000

National Express pays $24.5 million settlement

LONDON — Two of the largest school bus contractors ended a long-simmering grievance in early June when National Express Group agreed to pay $24.5 million to Atlantic Express to settle a $75 million lawsuit that was filed in 1998. National Express, based in London with U.S. headquarters in Austin, Texas, said the settlement is not an admission of liability. “We have consistently maintained that Atlantic’s allegations are unfounded and continue to do so,” said Phil White, CEO of National Express. In its lawsuit, Atlantic Express, based in Staten Island, N.Y., alleged that National Express used confidential information obtained during failed negotiations between the two companies to acquire Crabtree-Harmon Corp., a school bus contractor in Belton, Mo. Atlantic Express said it divulged information about its intention to buy Crabtree-Harmon during takeover talks with National Express, which later fell through. That information was used by National Express to target and acquire Crabtree-Harmon, according to the lawsuit. National Express denied that it used the information to acquire Crabtree-Harmon, but opted to settle the case rather than risk a trial. Said White, “We needed to end the uncertainty which this case has created and believe this settlement is the only prudent way to draw a line under the matter once and for all.” White said the settlement will not have an impact on National Express’ U.S. school bus operations. For its part, Atlantic Express was happy to see an end to the legal dispute. “We’re very pleased with the settlement,” said Dominic Gatto, the company’s president and chief executive. “We will use the money to grow our market.” Atlantic Express is the fourth-largest school bus contractor in North America, with approximately 6,500 school buses in its fleet. National Express, which recently acquired School Services and Leasing in Shawnee, Kan., has a fleet of about 8,400 school buses, making it the third-largest school bus company.

Drivers win $100,000 in bias suit

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A jury awarded $100,000 to four Fayette County (Ky.) school bus drivers who claimed their transportation director discriminated against them because of their age and sex. The female drivers, ranging in age from 31 to 57, testified that their director, John Kiser, created a hostile work environment by publicly and privately disparaging women and older people. They further charged him with discriminating against those groups in hiring and disciplining and of retaliating against them for filing grievances. “What we saw was a pattern that tended to put women down, make them look stupid and make kinds of animal jokes about them, and also to question the abilities of older drivers,” said JoEllen McComb, the plaintiffs’ attorney. Among the evidence McComb presented were numerous issues of the department newsletter, called “The Yellow Sheet,” containing articles and jokes the plaintiffs found offensive. Male and female employees testified for the plaintiffs, saying that discipline procedures were biased against women. One former employee said he overheard Kiser say that women should be at home having babies, not in the workplace. Other witnesses said they thought Kiser was a fair supervisor and that they found nothing offensive about the work environment. Kiser’s attorney, William Fogle, called the plaintiffs’ attendance and performance records into question. Three of the women had chronic attendance problems, with one of them missing more than 100 assignments in a single year. Only one of the drivers continues to work for the district. Of the other three, one was not rehired for the 1999-2000 school year, one left due to scheduling complications and one retired — due largely, she testified, to stress over the situation. “We decided to sue because no one would listen to us,” driver Rebecca Jones said after the verdict was handed down. Fogle said it was likely that the verdict would be appealed.

'Jacob's Law' restricts van use in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. — After three years of lobbying, the parents of Jacob Strebler — the 6-year-old boy who was killed in a 1994 crash involving a 15-passenger van and an 18-wheel truck — have seen their campaign to ban nonconforming vans come to fruition. South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges signed legislation that requires private schools and child-care centers to use school buses when transporting children. Michael and Lisa Strebler’s campaign to ban the use of nonconforming vans began in 1997, three years after Jacob was killed when the van he was riding in was rammed by an 18-wheel truck. The van was operated by Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. The measure was opposed by private schools and child-care centers because it would force them to trade in their vans for more expensive school buses. They also complained that the bill gave them only two years to comply. As a compromise, lawmakers supporting the measure agreed to give schools and child-care centers until July 1, 2006, to get rid of any nonconforming vans purchased before July 1, 2000. It also gives the schools and child-care centers immunity from civil lawsuits resulting from crashes involving vans. Under the new law, all schools and child-care centers must buy approved school buses beginning July 1, 2000. “This is for a little boy who went to a swimming lesson and never returned,” Lisa Strebler said after Hodges signed the measure.

Britain mulls use of yellow school bus

LONDON — Thousands of children in the United Kingdom could be riding yellow school buses similar to those in North America next year if an initiative by FirstGroup PLC, the parent company of First Student Inc., is successful. FirstGroup, a major public transportation operator in Britain, wants to provide contract service to schools using buses built with many of the safety standards boasted by U.S. buses. FirstGroup spokesman Martin Helm said the company is in various stages of negotiation with seven school agencies, from preliminary discussions to the tender process. He’s optimistic that deals will be consummated. “There’s no reason to suppose that the first contracts won’t be awarded before the summer’s out,” he said. This type of dedicated school transportation is almost non-existent in the U.K., Helm said. “We’re talking about growing a whole new market,” he said. A survey commissioned by FirstGroup showed that only 20 percent of all British schoolchildren ride buses (public transit buses) to and from school. Meanwhile, more than half of the children under age 12 ride school buses in the United States. Helm said the initiative will increase bus ridership and reduce traffic congestion. He estimated that up to 20 percent of the morning rush-hour traffic in the U.K. is caused by parents transporting their children to school. “We believe that we can make real inroads into reducing the traffic and increasing safety at the same time,” Helm said. Who will build Britain’s first yellow school buses has yet to be determined, but Helm said FirstGroup is working with Plaxton, a U.K. bus manufacturer that is part of Henlys Group PLC, which acquired Blue Bird Corp. last year. Helm said Plaxton engineers will use a Blue Bird school bus as a model for the U.K. version, which, of course, would need to be adapted for right-hand drive.

Contractors saluted at NSTA convention

SAN FRANCISCO — The National School Transportation Association recognized several outstanding school transportation providers in mid-July at its 36th annual convention in San Francisco. Eight contractors received the Golden Merit Award, which recognizes excellence of service, safety and outstanding demonstration of community responsibility. The recipients were Robert Baldwin of Bob Baldwins Transportation Inc. in Vernon, N.J.; Gregory J. Bonnett of Sunrise Transportation Inc. in Chicago; Patricia Kinsey of Durham Transportation in Boise, Idaho; Judy Koch of Koch School Bus Service in Waconia, Minn.; Ron Kurth of Kurth Bus Service Inc. in Elgin, Minn.; William N. Patterson Jr. of Laidlaw Transit Inc. in Glen Carbon, Ill.; James W. Shafer of School Bus Inc. in Sioux Falls, S.D.; and Paul K. Thompson of Krapf Bus Companies in Glenmoore, Pa. The Distinguished Service Award, recognizing school bus contractors who have made significant contributions to pupil transportation contracting, was given to Matt Pape of First Student Inc. in Miami. Three industry veterans were inducted into the NSTA Hall of Fame: Chuck Hey of School Bus Inc. in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Marvin Hey at Southwest Coaches in Marshall Minn.; and Jim Johansen of Laidlaw Transit in Champlin, Minn. Robert Mitchell of Beach Transportation in Missoula, Mont., received Thomas Built Buses’ Continuing Education and Professional Growth Grant, which is a $2,500 scholarship for continuing education. The final award handed out during the convention was SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s 33rd annual Contractor of the Year. This year’s winner is John Corr of The Trans Group in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.

Durham lends hand to special athletes

AUSTIN, Texas — More than 580 employees of Durham Transportation and their families volunteered their time and expertise to the Summer Games of the Special Olympics Northern California, Special Olympics Southern California and Special Olympics Texas. As a donation, the Austin, Texas–based company provided the entire transportation service for the three-day events. It also supported the events by providing large numbers of volunteers and a financial contribution of $25,000 to each chapter. Team Durham members were a valuable resource at the games — driving shuttles, handing out awards and escorting individuals to their competitions. Several Durham drivers noted that some of “their kids” competed in the events and were excited to see their bus drivers on hand to cheer them on.

Baxter takes NASDPTS reins

McLEAN, Va. — Pete Baxter, director of Indiana’s School Traffic Safety Division, has assumed the presidency of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS). Baxter, the former president-elect, took over the position in the wake of Dr. Barbara Goodman’s decision to become the assistant director of pupil transportation for Chesterfield County (Va.) Public Schools, which took effect July 1. Baxter has been active at the national level, most recently as chairman of the Interpretations Committee and a member of the Steering Committee of the National Conference on School Transportation. A past president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, Baxter has been involved in school transportation for 20 years. “The State Directors Association will surely miss the leadership and personality provided by Dr. Goodman,” said Baxter. “I will work to ensure that the association continues to serve the pupil transportation industry in a timely and productive manner.” Goodman had served as the director of pupil transportation for the Virginia Department of Education. She ended 11 years with the pupil transportation department. During her tenure as Virginia’s pupil transportation director, Goodman managed and instituted a variety of safety programs. Among other things, she developed instructional materials for a student bus safety program called “A Shared Responsibility” that was administered by teachers. She also implemented a “Walk, Ride, Walk” program. In the area of staff development, Goodman produced materials for school bus drivers and administrators on dealing with disruptive behavior, initiated annual staff development training for driver trainers and developed the first hands-on workshops for technicians at the annual transportation conference. “I would like to be remembered as a director with a small staff that accomplished things only larger staffs would attempt,” Goodman said.

Phoenix will host 2001 disabilities conference

ARLINGTON, Va. — Phoenix has been selected as the site for the 10th National Conference and Exhibition on Transporting Students with Disabilities and the Preschool Population. The conference is scheduled for March 2-7, 2001. A companion workshop, with topic still to be decided, is scheduled for March 5. The 4th National Special Needs Team Safety Roadeo, sponsored in conjunction with the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute (PTSI) in Syracuse, N.Y., is scheduled for March 3. For more information on the conference, contact Roseann Schwaderer at 800/221-4272 or e-mail [email protected] For information on the roadeo, contact PTSI at 800/836-2210.

Colorado district seeks input on transportation services

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Colorado Springs School District 11 is conducting a pupil transportation study and is seeking input from school district administrators who have any contracted transportation services and/or shared transportation services with municipal transportation providers. The results of the survey, which is being conducted online, will be used to assist the district in making long-term plans for student transportation needs. Two surveys have been created to collect data for this study:
1. Contracted Transportation Services Survey. Web address:
2. Shared Transportation Services Survey. Web address:
The school district will be soliciting input through Oct. 15, 2000. For more information, contact Bill Bair, director of transportation, Colorado Springs School District 11, 880 Babcock Road, Colorado Springs, CO 80915. Phone: 719/520-2142. E-mail: [email protected]

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