News from the World of Pupil Transportation

Posted on August 1, 2002

Buses are least risky mode of school travel

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A report by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) on the relative safety of different means of getting to and from school produced a not-so-surprising finding — school buses are the safest mode of school travel. The study, "The Relative Risks of School Travel: A National Perspective and Guidance for Local Community Risk Assessment," was prepared by a TRB committee as required by Congress under the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. The 181-page report provides data on the relative risk of traveling to and from school by various means. Because trip-specific statistics were not available, the researchers based their findings on crashes that occurred from 6 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 5 p.m., whether or not they involved a school trip. The study found that students who travel to and from school in school buses are exposed to the least amount of risk. That is, they are least likely to be injured or killed during school travel hours. Conversely, students riding in private passenger vehicles, especially if a teenager is behind the wheel, are at greatest risk. Bicycling and walking also place students in greater danger than school buses, according to the report. The report studied six modes of school travel: school buses, other buses, private vehicles driven by individuals 19 or older, private vehicles driven by operators under 19, walking and bicycling. According to the study, approximately 800 school-age children are killed each year in motor vehicle crashes during normal school travel hours. Of those 800 fatalities, only 2 percent involved a school bus, while 64 percent occurred in private passenger vehicles and 22 percent were the result of pedestrian or bicycle accidents. More than half of all deaths of children between ages 5 and 18 occur during normal school travel hours when a teenager is driving. The committee that produced the report said more could be done to reduce the number of school travel deaths. As an example, the committee said walking and bicycling could be made safer by improving sidewalks and building more bike paths. The committee added that a lack of uniformity in data hinders risk analysis on the local level. More research is necessary to provide decision makers with guidance necessary to help reduce travel risks. The study was sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Copies of the report can be purchased on the Internet at


Southeastern states quest for increased funding, industry collaboration

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Presenters at the Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference, held July 14-17 in Charleston, W.Va., reached an unmistakable consensus — the industry is experiencing difficult times. With the challenges posed by tight budgets, the No Child Left Behind Act and the ongoing investigation into restraint system safety, conference attendees were eager to discuss the direction of student transportation. According to Pete Baxter, president of the National Association of State Directors for Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS), the most pressing issue facing school bus operations is funding. "They say money can't buy happiness, but I believe more money will make our industry safer and happier," he said. Baxter noted that improvements in standards have no foreseeable effects until new buses are bought, which requires money. How to get more money is a question that remains unanswered. Several speakers, however, made suggestions for dealing with lean economic times. Ideas ranged from simple belt-tightening measures to combining separate lobbying efforts into a unified push for one block grant. For example, attempts at passing school bus safety bills could be linked to similar efforts to introduce clean fuel legislation, thus streamlining the approach to procuring government funds. Terry Thomas, past president of the National School Transportation Association, proposed tighter partnerships between industry associations to achieve a more influential voice on school transportation matters in the nation's capital. "We need to bring the agendas of NSTA, NAPT (National Association for Pupil Transportation), NASDPTS and the supplier community into cohesion," he said. "To accomplish anything with our school transportation lobbyist in D.C., we need to get our collective message together." One way to do this, said Thomas, is through the federal transportation funding act that is being reconsidered by Congress. He recommends using the findings of the recent Transportation Research Board study, as well as crash research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board, to press for more federal funds. These findings help to reconfirm the overwhelming safety record of school buses. Charlie Gauthier, executive director of NASDPTS, agreed with this assertion. "There's a chance that Congress will respond to these study numbers," he said. Gauthier cited the following statistics as the most influential: School buses provide 28 percent of the miles traveled in pupil transportation but only 4 percent of the fatalities. Meanwhile, passenger vehicles with teen drivers provide 16 percent of the miles and 54 percent of the fatalities. In his presentation titled "To belt or not to belt," Gauthier also outlined the plausibility of lap/shoulder belts on school buses. "In isolation, without outside influences such as cost, capacity and potential misuse, lap/shoulder belts are a good idea," he said. "But the reality in life is that you can't take these influences away." Donald Tudor, state director of pupil transportation in South Carolina, also commented on the issue. "It doesn't matter what you are wearing if a pine tree comes through the windshield and hits you in the chest," he said. Still, both presenters agreed that it is incumbent upon transportation directors to be the experts and continue to search for the best solution in the restraint systems debate. "The bottom line," said Gauthier, "is that the decisions we make over the next couple of years will affect the safety of hundreds of millions of children during the next quarter century." The conference also featured workshops on state school bus inspections, NHTSA's vehicle recall investigation process and a student transportation roundtable. Issues such as the No Child Left Behind Act, school bus advertising and the pursuit of a school bus-specific CDL permit were discussed, but left as subjects to be observed more closely in the future.

Dinosaur scrapped together with spare school bus parts

WATAUGA, N.C. — Charles Miller, maintenance mechanic at Watauga County Schools, created a replica dinosaur skeleton made out of scrap car, truck and bus parts. Inspired by the film "Jurassic Park," Miller based his creation on two pictures of Velociraptor skeletons that he got from his sister earlier in the year. "I had an old junk Ford engine and a lot of the parts were off the old Ford motor," Miller says. "The legs came off school buses, and there are even a couple of pieces off a lawnmower motor. There's a little bit of everything on it." The dinosaur's head is a differential cover from a truck, which Miller hammered out and cut with a torch. Its teeth are nails, and tire rod ends make up the creature's arms and part of its feet. Old school bus drag links are the legs, the hip bone is made from an exhaust pipe and the spine is a chain link. The dinosaur has moveable parts — its head rotates sideways and moves up and down. "It turns on the drag links on its hips, so you can let it down to the floor or raise it up," Miller explains. The piece measures more than eight feet long, stands at a little more than five feet tall and weighs more than 250 pounds. Miller is finishing his creation, working on it after his shift in the garage. After the piece is finished, Miller plans to take it to local schools.

How do you feel about allowing advertisements on school buses? Is this a viable option and reasonable way for school districts and contractors to address budget concerns?

From the Forum at

Just too many questions
Advertising should not be allowed. There are too many issues involved. For example, where does the revenue go? Who decides which bus gets which advertisement? Who gets to make the decisions about what is and what isn't acceptable to advertise? In Alabama, we had a district that advertised itself with the slogan "A World Class Education." The state ruled that this was not allowable and made the district take the ads off.
Assistant Director of Transportation
Tuscaloosa (Ala.) City Schools
Buses should look the part
No advertising should be allowed on school buses, inside or out. The public is already over-stimulated as it is, and students are exploited everywhere they turn. School buses are not city transit buses and should not look at all like them. I realize that funding is a major issue for many transportation operations, as well as mine, but there are other ways of balancing a budget.
Transportation Director
Santa Monica-Malibu (Calif.) Unified School District
It's not advertising, but...
Our school system has a couple of buses with a message board on the back. It states "How is my driving? Please call with any remarks." And it has our main number listed. The board also includes directional markers indicating that the bus is slowing down and coming to a stop. We have had positive reaction from this board from the taxpayers. To date, there have not been any other buses added with these boards. But they are without a doubt a proactive move toward better safety of our students, the drivers and the general public.
Gwinnett County Public Schools
Lawrenceville, Ga.
Some bus advertising might be good
It certainly would help the budget; there's no question there. It almost goes without saying that any ads placed on school buses would have to be appropriate for the children riding the buses. I don't think we should have ads with any great detail. Anything with more than a half dozen words would be distracting, and might make the situation unsafe. Keep in mind, however, that good marketing on a moving vehicle is something that can be read quickly, so people will get the message and want the product before the bus drives off. I would support advertising in which the ad simply says, "Transportation department funded by (the company name)." Or, for instance, the title of a movie and a picture, with none of the complicated credits. A picture of a product or a very brief public service announcement would be acceptable too. Selling advertising space, when done safely, would really help budget problems. And after all, we do live in a capitalist society. PHIL BLANCHARD-KRULIC
Great Barrington, Mass.

Limits on driver hours require attention

If you've ever noticed that some drivers on your staff consistently look tired or drowsy, they may be exceeding the maximum hours of on-duty driving time required by law. Identifying whether or not your drivers are in compliance with hours-of-service regulations could affect the overall safety of your operation. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a school bus driver cannot drive for "more than 10 hours following eight consecutive hours off duty," or "for any period after having been on duty 15 hours following eight consecutive hours off duty." Additionally, an intrastate bus driver cannot drive for any period after having been on duty 80 hours in an eight-day span. In some states, such as California, a driver cannot drive after 16 consecutive hours have elapsed since he reported for duty. But what does all this mean to your operation? Essentially, if you aren't aware of what other jobs your drivers have, you may be breaking the law. Because such a high percentage of school bus drivers have other jobs — about 40 percent according to SBF's 2002 school bus driver survey — there's a good chance their secondary jobs may be contributing to the problem. As defined by law, on-duty time is the total time spent performing any work in the capacity of a "common, contract or private motor carrier" as well as the time spent "performing any compensated work for a non-motor carrier entity." This means that any work done for a secondary employer counts toward the total on-duty hours allowed within a work period. If a driver drives a commercial vehicle in his spare time or for a secondary employer, these hours would go toward the maximum on-duty driving time permitted by law. "As a supervisor, you must have a way to find out if your drivers have been driving during breaks, weekends and nights," notes Lee Craw, bus driver training program specialist for the California Office of School Transportation. He says that spot visits from the highway patrol and state inspectors can occur at any time to check time records of employee service. "If a driver is in violation, your operation is liable," he adds. The easiest way to avoid fines, citations or accidents resulting from drivers exceeding on-duty limits is by keeping thorough documentation. Federal law requires employers to maintain accurate and true time cards for employees dating back six months. Make sure you have time sheets that record not only hours worked at your operation but also those for other employers. They should also include name, date, start time, end time, total number of hours and a slot for weekly and monthly totals. When using a driver for the first time or after a long off-period, federal law requires you to obtain a signed statement with the driver's total time spent on duty over the preceding seven days and the time the driver was last relieved from duty prior to beginning work for you. Although school bus drivers are not necessarily required by law to keep logbooks, Craw advises that they can be good for records, especially if the logbook keeps track of secondary employer hours. Observing these regulations is critical for many reasons. In addition to having legal repercussions as severe as jail time, violating on-duty driving limits can also lead to serious accidents. Overworked drivers are far more likely to lose concentration than well-rested drivers are. Moreover, having a fatigued driver behind the wheel can be just as dangerous as having a drunk driver. Like drugs and alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness and impairs judgment.

Durham School Services rescues campers during fire

WOODLAND PARK, Colo. — Durham School Services, school bus contractor for the Woodland Park School District, was called upon twice in June to evacuate more than 1,000 children from nearby summer camps threatened by the Hayman fire, which burned through Colorado for almost a month, destroying 130,000 acres of land. When the fire broke out, Durham officials called local camps to offer to help with evacuations. Their offer was accepted by Camp Elim and the Girl Scouts' Sky High Ranch, which both decided a voluntary evacuation was necessary when they received reports of the fire's progress and clouds of dark smoke reached the camps. Four hundred children, including a bus driver's daughter, were safely removed. One week later, a mandatory evacuation was ordered for the camps, and Durham assisted in the evacuation of more than 600 campers from Camp Elim, the Girl Scouts' Sky High Ranch and Eagle Lake Camp. "Because of Durham's immediate response to our need, we were able to calmly move more than 100 campers and their gear to safety in less than 50 minutes," said Jay Brady, director of Camp Elim.

Remaining Head Start mandates prove most challenging of all

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two key dates for implementation of federal Head Start transportation mandates have passed, and two more deadlines loom. Among the key requirements school districts, contractors and Head Start operations transporting Head Start students must currently meet are the following: CDL-licensed drivers, buses with communication systems and emergency safety equipment, vehicle maintenance programs, a driver-training program and a student safety training program. Still on the horizon is a January 2004 deadline for implementation of onboard monitors and child restraint systems and a January 2006 deadline for equipping vehicles for special-needs transportation and phasing out all vehicles other than school buses or allowable alternates. Operators nationwide say that the upcoming mandates will be the hardest to meet. Officials at the Wright County Community Action Head Start in Maple Lake, Minn., say they are currently in compliance with Head Start regulations, but they have concerns about meeting upcoming requirements. "The biggest challenge for the future is putting monitors on the buses and equipping every vehicle with child restraint systems," said Michelle Campa, family services coordinator. "We went out and purchased restraints for our buses, but then we were told they aren't compliant." Similarly, Agapito Perez, transportation coordinator for Head Start of Greater Dallas, said the upcoming deadlines are daunting. "One of the biggest challenges is the monitors. We have to train the teachers to be on the bus as attendants," he said. "Another major obstacle has been using the right restraints for the weight of the kid." Of the nine buses operated by the agency, all came spec'd with restraints and communication systems and one is equipped with a wheelchair lift. In Virginia, officials at one school district have written a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services detailing their concerns. District officials said that the district is in compliance with regulations that took effect this year, but that some of the upcoming requirements simply cannot be met due to funding constraints. Those include putting monitors on all buses transporting Head Start children, adding child restraint systems to those buses and making them wheelchair accessible. "To place monitors on the 52 buses would cost $500,000 annually," officials said in the letter. "Our budget cannot accommodate this expense." The district currently operates six Head Start-purchased buses and 46 division school buses that transport Head Start children on a daily basis. Forty-six of the 52 buses are not seat belt ready. Retrofitting the buses with seat belt-ready seats and seat belts would "decertify" the vehicle, making it illegal to operate, they asserted, adding that only one of the 52 buses is equipped with a wheelchair lift. The officials said it's possible that transportation services would have to be discontinued "should the barriers to meeting the new transportation regulations prove to be overwhelming."

SBF article earns honors

SBF's blockbuster feature on public relations, "28 Ways to Spread Good News About Your Program," was selected as a finalist in the Best How-To Story category of the 2002 Maggie Awards, sponsored by the Western Publications Assn. The eight-page article, written by staff editors Steve Hirano, Sandra Matke and Joey Campbell, appeared in the Nov. 2001 issue. To read the article, go to


Thomas to build new N.C. plant

HIGH POINT, N.C. — Thomas Built Buses plans to invest $39.7 million in building a new manufacturing plant for conventional-style school buses. The 250,000-square-foot plant is expected to generate 178 new jobs for the area and will be completed in 2004. Construction will begin in fall 2002 on a site adjacent to the company's current site for pre-delivery bus inspection and storage. "We're building this new school bus plant to bring the latest manufacturing technology and processes to our school bus products and our customers throughout North America," said John Thomas III, president of Thomas Built Buses. "Support for this project from the state of North Carolina, the City of High Point, the City of Archdale, as well as Randolph and Guilford Counties is a deciding factor in our decision on the plant location," he added. Thomas Built Buses is a subsidiary of Freightliner Corp., which approved the plan pending finalization of incentive proposals offered by state and local authorities.

Tools for tracking the history of your school bus

Unless a previous fleet owner or school bus dealer kept meticulous records, most school bus fleets will not know the history of their recently purchased school bus. And this can pose a dilemma when it comes time to service your bus, particularly a used school bus, which could be delivered without the original warranty papers and service manuals. But with advances in computer technology, it was only a matter of time before tracking the warranty service history of your school bus and related components became available. For the past couple years, International Truck and Engine Corp. and IC employees and dealers have been able to access a program called ISIS, International Service Information Solutions. ISIS is a web-based service tool used by technicians to obtain updated technical information on products, repair times for particular components (such as the engine, transmission, etc.), and master service manual information for International and IC brand products. Until January of this year, only International or IC employees and dealers could access this system through the International intranet Website. Now through a paid subscription service, school bus fleets that use IC brand school bus products can receive access to Fleet ISIS, a user-friendly Microsoft Windows-based program. The site, which receives nearly a million hits a month, is predominantly used by technicians who desire previous service information and the most recent service updates available. By entering the chassis number, general information about the chassis will appear on the screen. If the technician enters the vehicle's VIN number, information about this particular vehicle will come up including the date the warranty started, who the original dealer was, and the service contract on the vehicle. Fleet ISIS can also tell you the recall and inspection history of the vehicle. The program, developed by the Service Publications department at International Truck and Engine, was first used as a simple way to distribute technical bulletins in a timely manner. According to Nancy Butler, service information coordinator, International Truck and Engine, "As the information became easier to access, more information, such as service manuals, were added to the program. Now the ISIS program is updated daily." For more information on Fleet ISIS, speak with an IC dealer to order a paid subscription.

National Expres acquires Stock Transportation

AUSTIN, Texas — National Express Corp., North America's third-largest school bus contractor, has purchased Stock Transportation in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. Stock, the fifth-largest North American contractor, operates 2,200 school buses. About 80 percent of its buses are based in Canada. The rest are operated in the United States. The acquisition will expand National Express' fleet from 8,300 to 10,500 buses and extend its services to 20 states in the U.S. Following completion of the deal, Brian Stock, Stock's president, will be appointed chief operating officer of the new Canadian division of National Express. Meanwhile, Barry Stock, Stock's senior vice president, will be appointed senior vice president of business development for National Express. Barry Stock said the deal gives National Express a base in Canada from which to build its market share. "There are strong opportunities in Canada because the market is still very fragmented," he said. Larry Durham, National Express' chief executive, said the acquisition will strengthen the company's competitive advantage. "Stock has a first-class reputation, built on the same values of safety, integrity and customer responsiveness that National Express maintains," he said.

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