Dr. Frank Cyr organized the first national standards conference for school transportation in 1939.

Dr. Frank Cyr organized the first national standards conference for school transportation in 1939.

As School Bus Fleet marks its 60th anniversary this year, I’ve taken a look back at some of the industry milestones that our magazine has covered over the six decades since it was first published. To name just a few:

• In 1957, a school bus with a built-in elevator, believed to be the first of its kind, began transporting special-needs students in California. The bus, designed and built by Gillig Brothers, was also fitted with floor attachments for anchoring wheelchairs.

• In 1963, Superior Coach introduced a bumper-mounted gate to keep kids from crossing too close to the front of the bus.

• In 1972, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued Standard #17, guidelines for school bus operations, maintenance, inspections, and training.

• In 1977, new federal standards went into effect for six areas of school bus production: emergency exits, roof strength, joint strength, seating, fuel system integrity, and hydraulic brake systems.

• In 1992, federal requirements went into effect for all school bus drivers in the U.S. to obtain a CDL and for all new school buses to be equipped with stop arms.

Of course, there have been many other key developments in the industry since School Bus Fleet began (initially as School Bus Trends) in 1956. But one of the most influential events in pupil transportation occurred 17 years before the magazine’s inception.

In April 1939, the first national standards conference for school transportation took place at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York. The event, which would go on to be held every five years, is now known as the National Congress on School Transportation.

At this first edition, representatives of the then-48 states and the manufacturers developed 44 school bus standards, including specifications for body length, ceiling height, doors, and aisle width. They also agreed on a highly visible shade of yellow, dubbed “National School Bus Chrome” (now “National School Bus Glossy Yellow”).

The man who organized this first standards conference was an educator named Dr. Frank Cyr, and for his pioneering efforts he became known as the “Father of the Yellow School Bus.”

Before the 1939 conference, there were no national standards for school bus construction. According to the Teachers College at Columbia University, Cyr had begun a study of pupil transportation in 1937, and he found that students were being transported in a wide variety of vehicles. Among them: trucks, horse-drawn wheat wagons, and buses of different colors. One patriotic school district had even painted its buses red, white, and blue. The findings pointed to the need for national standards, and thus the national conference.

Fifty years after the inaugural school bus standards conference, in April 1989, Cyr spoke at a luncheon held at the original site of the event, Teachers College. He recalled that strips of various colors were hung on a wall, and delegates deliberated until they had narrowed the field to three slightly different shades of yellow, which Cyr said allowed for the fact that the paint couldn’t always be mixed precisely.

According to Teachers College (where he taught from 1934 to 1965), Cyr noted that safety was the foremost factor in decisions made at the conference. “The most often asked question was, ‘Will this standard improve safety?’” Cyr recalled at the luncheon.

When Cyr died in 1995 at age 95, the pupil transportation community lost a “father.” But his groundbreaking work helped establish the yellow school bus as an icon of safety and education, and he set a model of collaboration for the industry to follow into the future.

Thomas McMahon

Thomas McMahon

Executive Editor

Thomas had covered the pupil transportation industry with School Bus Fleet since 2002. When he's not writing articles about yellow buses, he enjoys running long distances and making a joyful noise with his guitar.