WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) succeeded in getting a provision in the House bill reauthorizing transportation programs that will accelerate the elimination of nonconforming vans in school transportation. The bill, called Transportation Equity Act — A Legacy for Users (TEA-LU), passed the House in early March by a vote of 417-9.
The van provision adds a requirement to Section 402 of Title 23 of the U.S. Code, regarding highway safety programs. Under this section, states must have a highway safety program that meets certain criteria and must collect and report safety data. Federal grants (which are commonly referred to as “402 funds”) are distributed to the states for their use in educational programs, safety campaigns and other “soft” safety uses and are predicated on the states meeting specific requirements. Section 402 is generally funded at about $200 million annually.
There are currently six mandated safety programs that states must have in order to qualify for funds, including programs to address excessive speeding, occupant protection and DWI. The bill adds a seventh requirement: “To prevent use of any motor vehicle designed to transport between nine and 15 passengers (including the driver) for the transportation of children to and from school and events related to school.”
The school bus industry has long been aware of the dangers posed by the use of large vans that do not meet the safety standards of school buses. Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have warned against using these vehicles for student transportation.
The NSTA is working to incorporate the same provision into the Senate bill.
In other news related to the reauthorization of the transportation bill, the NSTA participated in a two-day fly-in to Washington, D.C., to push for provisions favorable to private-sector interests.
The fly-in, held in mid-March, was sponsored by a coalition of private transportation associations. NSTA President Dale Krapf attended the event, which included meetings with more than 30 House and Senate members.
The coalition, represented by approximately 40 members, lobbied for protections against unfair competition from publicly funded transit operations, as well as inclusion of private-sector operators in the federal transit program.
The event was kicked off March 15 by a press conference featuring Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado and Rep. Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee.
Allard, who is chair of a key subcommittee of the Bank, Housing and Urban Affairs committee, said that the provisions sought by the coalition would help to “level the playing field” for the private sector. “Everyone, including the private sector, has the right to be fairly represented,” Allard said.
Duncan said that private-sector protections would translate into “better transportation service for all Americans.”