MAP-21, TEA-21, SAFETEA-LU and ISTEA are all acronyms for the last four multi-year surface transportation reauthorization bills over the last 23 years.

MAP-21 stands for “Moving Ahead for Progress for the 21st Century.” It was the most recent reauthorization bill, enacted in 2012, and is past due to be reauthorized.

These bills are often referred to as “highway bills.” There have been multiple extensions of each to keep programs funded and running while Congress negotiates the next big bill. So why are they important?

In short, these bills authorize funding and policy for all the major federal transportation programs that affect the school bus industry, including the federal highway, transit, motor carrier, highway safety and vehicle safety programs. These reauthorization bills are by far the most impactful legislation affecting school buses that Congress considers. Historically, they are multi-year bills because of the long lead time needed for planning and construction of highways and transit systems, which receive the bulk of the funding.

So why does it take so long to negotiate and pass this bill?

• First and most important, the primary funding mechanism for these programs, the Highway Trust Fund, is funded 95% by federal fuel taxes, which have not been raised since 1993. Due to a variety of factors over the last decade, including higher fuel economy automobiles, overall lower vehicle miles traveled, and the decision to delay or not purchase automobiles, the fund has not kept pace with funding levels for the federal program. Congress has saved the Highway Trust Fund from bankruptcy with multiple infusions from the general Treasury to keep transportation programs going.

• Second, all bills must be revenue-neutral, meaning if you add programmatic funding in one area, you have to find savings in another to pay for it. Because there is no political will to raise fuel taxes, Congress is finding it more difficult to find other sources of revenue without raising taxes. This is the main reason reaching agreement on these bills is becoming even more challenging.

• Third, reauthorization bills are huge pieces of legislation always containing several new policy provisions. MAP-21 was over 1,000 pages of text.

• Finally, because the bill affects so many programs, there are many congressional committees of jurisdiction (see table below) with many competing priorities and hurdles to scale before an agreement can be reached.

This table shows the various congressional committees that have a role in the highway bill reauthorization process and the programs under their jurisdiction.

This table shows the various congressional committees that have a role in the highway bill reauthorization process and the programs under their jurisdiction.

Most importantly, how does this bill affect school bus transportation?

MAP-21 directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to complete 29 new rulemakings affecting commercial motor vehicle operators and drivers. Those new rulemakings did not include any of the ones that were already underway at FMCSA. MAP-21 also directed FMCSA to implement 34 programmatic changes and complete 15 reports.

Examples of a few of the mandated rulemakings include electronic on-board recorders; patterns of safety violations; safety fitness determination; a unified registration system; and drug and alcohol clearinghouse.

There are several other provisions in MAP-21 that impact school transportation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was given a safety grant to address teen traffic safety, allowing states to use a portion of their funding to improve traffic safety for teen drivers.

In addition, the public transit program has contained protections against encroachment from public transit agencies in the provision of home-to-school private school bus transportation and charter bus transportation for many decades. These protections must be preserved in every bill.

The National School Transportation Association (NSTA) is working on many issues regarding MAP-21 reauthorization, but our top priorities include limiting the FMCSA’s ability to dramatically increase minimum insurance requirements on school bus operators; reforming the Compliance, Safety and Accountability program and scoring system; and preserving the school bus and charter protections in the transit programs.

NSTA also raised concerns about legislation that has been introduced to authorize hair follicle testing as a Department of Transportation-approved alternative method for drug testing, which may also be included in the reauthorization.