Washington, D.C. — The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has released two new documents important to the school bus industry.
These items — a brochure called “Public Transportation and School Buses” and an accompanying letter from FTA Administrator Jenna Dorn — are the result of more than two years of collaboration between the agency and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA).
The NSTA had two goals in pursuing these issues — to clarify for school administrators, school bus operators and transit agencies the rules governing the use of transit buses for tripper and charter service for school transportation and to promote the use of school bus companies in transit operations.
NSTA President Dale Krapf described the brochure as a “valuable weapon in protecting school transportation contracts against increasingly aggressive marketing by both urban and rural transit agencies.”
The brochure sets out in easy-to-understand question-and-answer format the federal regulations that limit the use of transit buses to transport students. In its introduction, the brochure states that, in general, recipients of FTA grants cannot provide transportation for students and school personnel if that transportation excludes the general public or competes with private school bus operators.
Here are a couple of sample questions and answers from the brochure.
Question: Does the prohibition against providing school bus service apply to school field trips or trips to other school-sponsored activities, like football games?
Answer: Yes. The prohibition against school bus service applies to both home-to-school transportation and transportation for school-sponsored activities or trips. However, an FTA grantee may use buses, facilities and equipment for the transportation of school students, personnel and equipment for incidental charter bus operations, if one or more of the charter bus service exceptions apply. These include situations where there are no willing and able private charter operators to provide the service, or when the trip involves a significant number of persons with disabilities. For a complete description of the charter bus exceptions, please refer to the charter service regulations (49 CFR 604). They are available at www.fta.dot.gov/library/legal/charterservice/index.html .
Question: How can a private school bus operator file a complaint about a violation of the school bus regulations?
Answer: Information concerning the service should be sent in writing to the FTA regional administrator. Include as many specifics as possible, such as who provided the service, date and time of the service, origin, destination and equipment uses. After consideration of this information, the regional administrator will make a preliminary determination as to whether probable cause exists to believe that a violation of the agreement has taken place. If probable cause exists, the regional administrator will investigate the complaint and make a written determination of whether there has been a violation and may impose a remedy.
The complete text of the FTA’s school bus operators regulations, 49 CFR Part 605, can be accessed online at www.fta.dot.gov/library/legal/Schoolbus .
In Dorn’s accompanying letter, she advises FTA grantees that “working with private school bus operators to provide supplemental public transportation services can help communities make more efficient use of their resources while increasing mobility for community residents.” She also encourages transit agencies to include school bus operators in their planning.
“So often we are the forgotten segment in transportation planning,” said Terry Thomas, president of Community Bus Services in Youngstown, Ohio. “We are grateful that Administrator Dorn sees the value we can bring to public transportation.”
The NSTA is developing a step-by-step guide for school bus contractors to help them pursue transit opportunities. Finding Your Seat at the Transit Table: A Guide for School Bus Companies will be available from the NSTA office. For more information, call (703) 684-3200.