Last month in this space, I discussed the economic importance of the U.S. school bus system — it saves $8 billion in fuel costs annually, according to the American School Bus Council — and the need for more funding to keep it running strong.
Not long afterward, President Obama signed into law a $787-billion economic stimulus package. Although the possibility of dedicated funding for pupil transportation seemed remote, it was still a bit disappointing to find none.
But one element of the stimulus that offers great potential for the school bus industry is $300 million for clean diesel efforts, such as retrofitting older vehicles with particulate filters and buying new vehicles. Although that number is smaller than some were hoping for, it’s a huge increase over previous funding.
The National School Transportation Association, which had been pushing for an increase, called the provision “a huge infusion of funding” and noted that there will be pressure to spend it quickly.
Indeed, the EPA said that a competitive announcement for the stimulus funding would be made in early March. There will also be a separate competitive announcement for the EPA’s fiscal year 2009 National Diesel Emissions Reduction Program Appropriations.
If you have older buses in your fleet that haven’t been retrofitted with emissions-reducing equipment, I encourage you to go after a slice of these funds. Be sure to check www.epa.gov/cleandiesel for updates.
Another potential benefit for the school bus industry is that the stimulus package creates a $54-billion education fund to help prevent or restore state budget cuts.
Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, said it appears that about $8 billion of the fund could be used to modernize and renovate school buildings, including transportation facilities.
However, Mike expressed his discontent that the stimulus provides $8.4 billion for investments in public transit projects and $150 million for rail and transit security grants, but neither includes pupil transportation.
“The activities authorized under the transit stimulus will provide financial support for many of the same needs that exist as well in school transportation, which makes it especially disappointing that financial support for our nation’s largest mass transit system — yellow school buses — was not included in this package,” Mike said.
There may be other sources of federal support within the school bus industry’s reach.
Charlie Hood, president of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, said that the upcoming reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU, which governs spending on surface transportation, will be one avenue to explore.
Another is the reauthorization of the Safe Routes to School program. Charlie said that there’s a possibility of getting funds included for mitigating hazards for kids who walk to and from school bus stops — not just to and from school.
Increased federal support could be vital because, as Charlie said, “Many of our states are in such bad shape and are seeing decreases in school bus service, and we don’t want to see any further erosion in the number of kids who can ride school buses.”