In addition to his duties as state pupil transportation director for North Carolina, Derek Graham has spent the past year in one of the industry’s more prominent posts: president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS).
The first year of his two-year term was an eventful one. NASDPTS worked with key government agencies in efforts to bolster school bus security and occupant protection. The association also completed its search for a new executive director.
NASDPTS’ conference in Grand Rapids, Mich., in late October will mark the beginning of Graham’s second year as president. SBF Executive Editor Thomas McMahon spoke to Graham for a forecast on the near future and an assessment of the recent past.
What do you expect to focus on in your second year as NASDPTS president?
I think we’re going to see some really big movement with the American School Bus Council (ASBC). We’re working on a partnership program through ASBC where suppliers and other industry partners can become involved. The council wants to roll out tool kit materials and possibly a new rendition of the Love the Bus program, which we started this year.
Also, we want to continue to develop our relationships with the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in light of the recent passage of the homeland security legislation that includes school buses. As state directors, we’re ready to provide input and assistance to TSA in their assessment of the school transportation industry.
What were some of the major developments of your first year?
The ASBC Website went online at the Kansas City (Mo.) conference. Within a month we had the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendation on cell phones that went to NASDPTS and others in the industry, and the Huntsville (Ala.) crash.
Horrific crashes that we’ve seen over time always rekindle the seat belt debate. Alabama responded with hearings and an analysis of the issue, and I was really glad to see state director Joe Lightsey serving on his governor’s task force.
In April, we presented a Webcast with Deborah Hersman of the NTSB. She was the member on scene in Huntsville and presented to the governor’s task force. She showed us some of the NTSB simulations from past school bus crashes, each with its unique circumstances. There seem to be crashes where you’re better off belted and crashes where you’re better off unbelted.
Organizationally, our biggest change this year was hiring a new executive director, Bob Riley. We’re really excited about being fully staffed again — it helps provide better service to our members.
What are some of the key issues facing the industry?
Certainly security, because we are a vulnerable transportation system. The programs that are in place — School Bus Watch and School Transportation Security Awareness — expand this awareness to bus drivers and other staff.
And here we are in 2007, the year of the new EPA engines — probably the biggest technological change we’ve seen in buses in a long time. Along these lines, there are grant opportunities to retrofit older buses to get them cleaned up. And the advances don’t stop under the hood. There’s GPS and AVL, digital camera systems, lap-shoulder belt systems and the list goes on and on. New technology requires education and training — it’s a lot to keep up with.