NAPT News & Views — School transportation at the crossroads

Mike Martin, NAPT Executive Director
Posted on August 1, 2009

The world, our country and even the pupil transportation industry are at a transformational crossroads. Things are changing very, very fast. The old is being left behind and the new rushing in like water from a hole poked in a dam.

It’s hard to keep up with it all.

But consider the technological and demographic bricks and mortar that are driving this transformation. Ready for some facts that should get your attention?

If you’re one in a million in China, there are 1,300 people just like you, and in India there are 1,100 of you!

If you took every single job in the U.S. today and shipped them to China (some would argue that’s almost happened already!), China would still have a labor surplus. And sometime next year, China is expected to have the largest English-speaking population in the world.

That’s incredible.

Technology has long since changed things, and new advances are occurring with break-neck pace. Are you a Facebook user? If not, you are now or soon will be a distinct minority. Seventy million people log onto Facebook and 150,000 new users join every day.

Do you find all this a) amazing, b) creepy, c) scary, or d) all of these? I picked “d,” which means I’m ready to start wandering around Jurassic Park!

Here’s more: The number of text messages sent and received every day exceeds the population of the planet (which is nearly 6 billion).

The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years. It’s estimated that 1.5 exabytes of unique new information will be generated worldwide this year alone. So what the heck is an exabyte, you ask? I have no clue, but let’s just say it’s a lot — a whole lot.

On the job front, many experts predict that the 10 most in-demand jobs in 2010 don’t even exist yet. That’s next year’s job market, folks! And they will utilize technologies that have yet to be invented to solve problems that we don’t even know are problems yet. Geez.

The school bus industry cannot be oblivious to this change that’s ricocheting all around us. Yes, our performance record is stellar and some argue, “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” But that thinking no longer holds water.

No, sir. We can’t view ourselves as the tried and true big yellow that has served well through thick and thin. Status quo thinking is a death sentence for any industry. We must understand, embrace and stay ahead of the changes. And innovate our own advances.

Parents who can whip out their Blackberry and get stock quotes and e-mail instantly anywhere in the world now have very high expectations. They will not understand — or tolerate — school buses that run late or without the latest in safety and security equipment. Nor will they support cost increases without seeing justification and added value.

At NAPT, we’ve done strategic planning to make sure organizationally we stay ahead of the curve. Two and a half years ago, for example, we challenged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to develop the next generation of school bus passenger crash protection and then challenged the agency to do more last year when they initiated rulemaking. This did not make us especially popular with some of the politicians, both inside the beltway and within our industry.

But it did cause several prominent organizations outside the traditional school transportation watershed to reach out to us and ask us if we would be interested in working with them. We have since forged new relationships with these non-traditional allies, and we plan to continue to build bridges with them.

Our vision is to be first and foremost in leading, supporting and developing world-class professionals who provide safe and efficient transportation for our children.

That’s an easy vision statement for a facilitator to tape to a wall during a strategic planning session, and easy to get all the heads in the room to nod in support. The hard part is to make sure we implement it consistent with all the fast-paced changes and demands of our society.

Our mission is CLEAR, which stands for Communication, Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Resources. In the time ahead, you’ll see us refine our work in each of these areas and sharpen our focus on providing services and products our members want and need. We will do it alone when we have to, but we will also do it with partners whenever possible — and sometimes with partners you might not expect.

The bus called Change is not just yellow. It comes in many hues and arrives daily with mind-boggling new opportunities and challenges that demand fast understanding and action. We must either climb aboard and capitalize on them, or stay behind at the bus stop called Yesterday.

We are planning and working to be sure NAPT members can climb aboard at every stop, and we invite you to join us, particularly at our 2009 Annual Summit in Louisville, Ky., from Oct. 31 to Nov. 5.


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