WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) Capitol Hill Fly-In last week, members met with representatives to push for continued protections for school bus operators, including the federal fuel tax exemption and the ban on transit encroachment.
NSTA members from across the country came together May 4 and 5 to meet with their personal congressional representatives and to hear from congressional committee leaders who have jurisdiction over school bus transportation.
Association members had more than 100 appointments with their respective delegations and heard presentations as a group from eight members of Congress on key committees.
“This was by far the best Capitol Hill Fly-In NSTA has put together in many years,” said NSTA President Donald Fowler of Fowler Bus Co. in Richmond, Mo. “With 106 new members of Congress, it was important to educate new members about our business and get our message out to a broader congressional audience. “
The association focused on major issues affecting student transportation in three broad areas: maintaining a level playing field for contractors, keeping the cost of transportation down and growing yellow school bus ridership.
NSTA members spoke with federal legislators about preserving federal school bus protections. For more than 40 years, federal law has prevented federally-funded public transit systems from providing most home-to-school school bus transportation in competition with private operators. NSTA members made the case to continue to preserve these protections against transit encroachment on school bus service.
Likewise, legislators were encouraged to preserve federal charter service protections. Privately operated transportation companies, including school bus contractors, are protected from unfair competition in school activity trips and other charter services by federally funded public transit systems.
NSTA members said that the charter protections are under attack by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Murray has inserted a provision in the two most recent appropriations bills preventing the Federal Transit Administration from enforcing the charter rule in the Seattle area. The provision has been declared unconstitutional by a federal district court, and NSTA members encouraged their congressional representatives to oppose Murray’s provision.
NSTA members also pushed for maintaining the federal fuel tax exemption for school buses. School bus transportation is fully exempted from the 24.3 cent per gallon fuel tax because school buses reduce congestion and pollution, conserve fuel, and alleviate roadway wear. The association said that the exemption only costs the Federal Treasury about $146 million per year, but it has a significant impact on ensuring the continued availability of home-to-school transportation.
Another topic addressed was the Diesel Emission Reduction Act, which has provided about $500 million over eight years for diesel emission retrofits and bus replacements. NSTA members encouraged legislators to continue their support for the program and to fund it at $50 million for Fiscal Year 2012.
The association also thanked congressional representatives for their continued support of the American School Bus Council’s drive for a federally funded public awareness campaign promoting the benefits of the yellow school bus. Several NSTA members invited their representatives to participate in any associated events in their local districts.
NSTA board member John Benish of Chicago-based Cook-Illinois Corp. said that he has “been to many NSTA meetings over the years, but I really thought our meetings this year were very well done. This kind of event is what NSTA is all about.”