In this new series, we pose five pertinent questions to a notable person in pupil transportation. Our discussion here is with Todd Monteferrario, president of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) and senior director of operational excellence for First Student.
1. What have been NSTA’s top priorities in working with the new administration in Washington?
We remain very hopeful that the Trump administration will continue to prioritize regulatory relief, as we are already seeing their initial efforts at repealing many of the Obama administration’s priorities. Some of our priorities include:
• Rescinding the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on obstructive sleep apnea;
• Removing CSA [Compliance, Safety, Accountability] scores from public view until all CSA reforms directed in the FAST Act are completed;
• Rescinding the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on safety fitness determination; and
• Working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to create a public awareness campaign to address illegal passing of stopped school buses.
2. What do you see as some other key issues for school transportation in 2017?
Driver shortages remain a challenge for many transportation providers. When looking at the labor market, one should consider more than the unemployment rate. For example, according to the Federal Reserve Economic Data, the percentage of the population not in the workforce has grown from 32.98% to 37.33% over the past 20 years. We all know the baby boomers are retiring, but the end result of this is that people have simply left the workforce not to be replaced. As the pool of applicants decreases, recruiting efforts become more intense as employers compete for those eligible workers.
The other top issue facing us is seat belts. The question is not whether putting lap-shoulder belts (three-point belts) in school buses is worth the price tag; the question is whether spending the money equipping school buses with seat belts will provide the biggest safety net benefit for all students. Other considerations besides cost must include proper seat belt usage, enforcement, liability (student, parent, school district, bus driver, and contractor), and the option by any district to increase its walk zone and reduce school transportation services to afford the additional expense involved. It is clear that this must be a local decision so that all of these important elements are considered in the decision-making process.
3. Autonomous vehicles have been attracting a lot of attention lately. Do you expect this to have an impact on school buses anytime soon?
To me, autonomous vehicles (AVs) fall into two thought streams: the ability to use AV technology in the school bus (likely not happening soon due to the scale of our industry), and the ability for AVs to recognize school buses. This includes everything from how AVs correctly identify school buses, to how AVs should behave when encountering a school bus in the loading/unloading process, to how AVs should behave while on school property or in school zones. Regardless of whether the technology is ever deployed on a school bus, it has the potential to bring great benefit to our industry, including more efficient mapping databases to aid in routing, reduced collisions, improved emissions, and the reduction in fuel consumption.
4. NSTA will be hosting the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition in Indianapolis this summer. Based on what you’ve seen, what are the benefits for drivers who participate?
We look forward to this event every year. It gives professional school bus drivers the opportunity to showcase their skills to the entire industry as well as share their passion and love of safety. We know the dedication each competitor puts into driving safely every day, competing at the state level, winning, traveling to the Safety Competition, and competing. This competition gives them the opportunity to be recognized for their hard work. This is an exciting journey for every competitor.
5. What do you like most about working in school transportation?
I love being in this industry because it offers the amazing opportunity to work with professional, dedicated, hardworking transportation leaders who care about our collective goal — transporting students safely. We have all dedicated our careers to helping the young people of our communities have access to education at school. Our work is truly an investment in the future generations.