KA’ANAPALI, Hawaii — School bus legislation, autonomous vehicles, and employee management were among the issues discussed at a National School Transportation Association (NSTA) event here this week.
Nearly 80 school bus contractors and industry suppliers gathered at the Westin Maui Resort for NSTA’s 2018 Midwinter Meeting, held from Sunday to Wednesday. Presentations and committee meetings covered industry updates, association initiatives, and other topics.
Perhaps the most thought-provoking presentation came from Dan Kobussen of Kobussen Buses in Wisconsin. Kobussen detailed developments in vehicle autonomy, ridesharing, and related trends that could impact school transportation in the coming years. For example, he said that he sees a decrease in vehicle ownership and an increase in utilization of ridesharing and car subscription services.
“The way the economy is going, young people don’t want to own,” he said. “Cars are a bad economic proposition because of poor utilization and increasing depreciation. Is that different for school buses?”
Kobussen and others in the room also addressed the potential role of automation in school buses, with the consensus seeming to be that parents will always want an adult on the vehicle that takes their kids to and from school. But that adult’s duties might shift in the future.
“As time goes on, the driver is going to do less driving and more student management,” Kobussen said.
NSTA's 2018 Midwinter Meeting was the first since new leadership came on board last year. NSTA President Blake Krapf introduced the new team, including Executive Director Tiffany Boykin and Regulatory Relations Director Les Sokolowski. Also during the event, Barry Stock of Landmark Student Transportation in Ontario gave an update on NSTA’s 2017-2019 strategic plans. Among the association’s goals are growing membership, increasing non-dues revenue, and protecting and growing market share for school bus contractors.
NSTA is also working to boost participation in the School Bus Driver International Safety Competition, which the association hosts in conjunction with its annual meeting in the summer. This year, those events will be held July 21-25 in Philadelphia.
Another upcoming event for NSTA is the Capitol Hill Bus-In, slated for April 24-25 in Washington, D.C. At the Midwinter Meeting, government relations committee members said that last year’s Capitol Hill Bus-In was a good chance to educate legislators about the benefits and safety record of school bus transportation.
Bree Allen of Ethan Allen Transportation in New York said that NSTA members who attended the Bus-In in 2017 and met with congressional representatives “were able to have a good dialogue about our industry and safety” rather than going in with an “ask.”
In previous years, NSTA was more focused on defeating legislation and regulations that the association deemed harmful to the industry. But with the current administration in Washington, NSTA has seen more opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive.
In that vein, last year the association worked with Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) to develop the Buses United for Safety, Regulatory Reform, and Enhanced Growth for the 21st Century Act (BUSREGS-21), which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April but has yet to pass. The bill proposes a number of initiatives to evaluate and streamline regulations that affect school transportation.
The Midwinter Meeting also provided updates on state legislative activity that NSTA is monitoring. For example, a bill in the New Mexico Legislature would raise the minimum wage for school bus drivers — including those employed by contractors — to $16 per hour. Meanwhile, in both Maine and Washington, lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow students to consume medical marijuana in a “nonsmokeable form” on the school bus.
In another Midwinter Meeting presentation, Grace Kelly of RC Kelly Law Associates shared strategies for managing “difficult and irrational” employees. Kelly provided attendees with sample policies on such pertinent subjects as non-harassment, violence prevention, and anti-bullying in the workplace.
The event also included meetings of NSTA’s board of directors and committees that cover membership, safety and security, and industry development.