WETHERSFIELD, Conn. — Older school buses in the state are still required to have crossing arms, despite legislation passed earlier this year that was intended to exempt them.
Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Commissioner Robert Ward ruled that the legislation — aimed at exempting model year 2006 and older school buses from a DMV regulation requiring crossing arms on all school buses — was ineffective.
The DMV regulation was issued last year, with a deadline of Sept. 1, 2008, to retrofit the older buses with the device, which extends from the front bumper to prevent children from crossing the street too close to the bus.
The Connecticut School Transportation Association (COSTA) opposed the regulation, arguing that crossing arms retrofitted onto older school buses regularly malfunction.
“In the winter, with the road salts getting in there, they break down,” COSTA Executive Director Bill Moore said in an interview. “In Connecticut, that puts a bus out of service.”
The legislation that was then introduced and passed had been agreed upon by Moore, a state senator and the DMV’s legal counsel. The parties had settled on this text to achieve the desired exemption:
“Each school bus that is model year 2007 or newer shall be equipped with a crossing control arm mounted on the right front bumper.”
Responding to an inquiry from Sgt. Garfield Green, the state pupil transportation director, Ward wrote that the legislation “simply provides a mandate on certain model year buses.” The legislation was not clear in its attempt to exempt older buses, Ward wrote.
Moore said that COSTA members were “outraged” by Ward’s decision.
“When the legislation was enacted, we assumed that the DMV would stand up to the commitment it made through its chief legal counsel, which was, ‘Yes, this is the language that will satisfy the problem,’” Moore said. “So, naturally, we informed our members. Then we were stunned to find out that the DMV was walking away from the agreement.”
COSTA’s subsequent efforts to change Ward’s mind were unsuccessful. The association advised school bus operators to proceed with retrofitting buses with crossing arms by Sept. 1.
However, Ward did say that he would “entertain petitions from individual bus companies if a legitimate concern about inability to comply is presented.”
Moore said that some operations took Ward up on that offer, and he was aware of at least one that was granted a delay until mid-October.
Otherwise, Moore said he believed that operations were able to meet the deadline, although it was “a scramble” for many of them to secure the funding and the equipment itself after learning that Ward had overruled the exemption.