NEW ORLEANS — City council members passed legislation that requires new regulations for school bus operators who serve the city’s public schools.
The ordinance, which was approved in a unanimous vote on Thursday, included several measures intended to improve school bus safety, including new permitting, inspection, and licensing standards for school buses, and background checks and driving certificate requirements for bus drivers, according to NOLA.com. In addition, the ordinance requires school bus operators to have at least $1 million in liability insurance for their buses.
New Orleans Safety and Permits Director Zach Smith told the news source that the ordinance will go into effect for the 2019-2020 school year.
As previously reported, the proposed ordinance, which was approved in a 4-0 vote by the council’s transportation and airport committee on Jan. 30, would require bus companies to register with the city, and would allow the city to fine those firms if their buses are poorly maintained.
Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said on Thursday that audits performed last year on the city’s school bus system found a range of “highly unacceptable” safety violations, NOLA.com reports. Wesley Pfeifer, the city’s taxicab administrator whose staff conducted the audits in partnership with the New Orleans Police Department, told the news source that buses had broken windows, safety hatches that were bolted shut, unbolted seats, counterfeit brake tags, missing license plates, and no insurance or registration on file. Under the new regulations, operators will now be subject to fees and penalties should they fail to meet the requirements outlined in the ordinance, according to NOLA.com.
Mayor LaToya Cantrell, whose administration proposed the regulations, said in a statement after the council's vote that she was grateful for the council's leadership and swift action in holding the city's school bus operators accountable, The New Orleans Advocate reports.
Officials told The New Orleans Advocate that up until 2005 the Orleans Parish School Board managed all aspects of the city's charter school system, including school bus maintenance and operations. However, that changed when several charter organizations gained the right to operate like "mini-school boards" and most schools began contracting school bus operations to about 60 for-hire entities. Officials added that this resulted in increasing operational costs as more students began to attend schools miles away from their homes.