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August 01, 2004  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Safety in numbers?

by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher


Each August, we put together an editorial package that focuses on school bus safety. This year is no exception, but we’ve got a heftier package than normal, with no less than four articles on safety-related topics.

In this issue, we discuss methods of handling hostile situations on the bus, accident reduction strategies, exterior safety equipment and video surveillance. Each of these articles puts the spotlight on safety — the first commandment of school transportation.

We hope you photocopy these stories and share them. To those who haven’t asked: Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to copy and share material you read in the magazine with staff, colleagues and friends.

All that we ask is that you copy the full page, including the “SCHOOL BUS FLEET” at the bottom. If, instead of photocopying, you "lift" the material for use in newsletters or other works, we ask that you credit the magazine with the following: “Reprinted with permission of SCHOOL BUS FLEET.”

How dollars impact safety
Now that I’ve gotten the permissions out of the way, I’d like to talk about how numbers affect safety. Specifically, I’m talking about budget shortfalls and how they can impact your operation.

Around the country we’re still hearing about service cuts, implementation of parent-pay programs, greater use of public transit for school transportation and failed ballot initiatives to provide school funding. Obviously, public investment in school transportation has been whittled away due to circumstances beyond your control.

For many of the public officials deciding how to spend scarce tax dollars, school transportation safety has become an ancillary issue. In many ways, you are a victim of your own success. School buses have such an outstanding safety record that parents, school boards and community leaders assume that cuts in busing will not compromise safety.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Funding cuts always have a negative impact on safety. It can’t be helped. Think about it…fewer dollars can lead to reduced service (forcing displaced students to use more dangerous travel modes to and from school), smaller pay hikes for staff (causing some of your best employees to leave), outdated equipment (requiring older, less-safe buses to be used) and reduced travel and training (a double-whammy that compromises the knowledge base of your operation).

And these are just the obvious cost-cutting options. I’m sure you can think of other ways that reduced funding has negatively affected your operation’s safety. And don’t forget that outrageously high fuel prices will continue to cut at your margins.

Safety at any price
But that doesn’t mean you have to run an unsafe operation. Safety is a state of mind as much as an operational or funding issue. It’s nice to have full funding, but it’s not essential for a safe operation.

For every dollar cut from your program, you need to invest the equivalent amount of energy and enthusiasm into safety. That can be as simple as copying and distributing articles from this magazine and exhorting your staff daily to put safety first. It can take many forms, but you have to believe that it’s necessary. That’s the tough part.

Money doesn’t guarantee safety. It doesn’t guarantee anything. What provides the greatest measure of safety is people who care. Fortunately, this industry is stacked full with people like that.

Keep up the good work.

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