LAKE ANDES, S.D. — On Feb. 5, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) ordered Yankton Transit to cease and desist from operating exclusive school bus routes, a move that was in response to a complaint that the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) filed in 2011.

According to the ruling in the case, on Feb. 24, 2011, NSTA submitted a complaint to the FTA alleging that Yankton Transit, a sub-recipient of FTA funds, was operating “an exclusive school bus service not open to the public,” which was in violation of FTA’s school bus operations and regulations statute.  

(Federal transit law prohibits FTA recipients from using FTA-funded equipment and facilities for exclusive school bus service.)

NSTA submitted as evidence a questionnaire it mailed to the transit agency in November 2010, Yankton’s response to the questionnaire and photos of a rider being denied entry to a Yankton Transit bus, a Yankton bus parked in front of a school and one of the agency’s buses unloading students at a school.

In response, Yankton conceded that its transportation service includes school transportation in town to more than 200 children per year, but the agency argued that it was not in violation of the FTA regulations statute because its vehicles are not the Type I or Type II school buses covered under the regulation; Yankton is not an “urban area;” and the school bus service is not exclusive because Yankton Transit facilitates non-student riders on other vehicles, only offers prescheduled rides, and it does not have set routes.

In its rebuttal submitted to the FTA in June 2011, NSTA said that all types of buses fall within the FTA regulations, and that Yankton is in an urban area.

The association’s rebuttal also stated, “The two critical features that allow Yankton to monopolize all local school transportation in its territory are excess ‘vehicles’ and the necessary ‘drivers’ to operate those additional vehicles. By its own admission, Yankton has managed over the years to leverage federal and state funds to procure enough ‘vehicles’ and hire additional ‘drivers’ to provide both ‘demand response rural transit service’ and exclusive school bus service to meet the peaks of these demands simultaneously for all practical purposes.”

Moreover, the ruling states that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration no longer distinguishes between Type I and Type II school vehicles, so the type of buses Yankton Transit uses to provide school bus service is irrelevant to the application of the FTA’s school bus operations regulations.

The FTA also found that the regulations apply to all recipients of FTA funds regardless of their geographical location, so Yankton’s argument that it does not fall within the definition of an “urban area” is moot.

Finally, the FTA found from the evidence submitted and from Yankton’s admissions that the agency’s school bus routes are not open to or meant to serve the general public, and it ordered Yankton Transit to stop operating the routes.  

Because of the timing of the decision, the FTA has given Yankton Transit 60 days to provide a transition plan to its Region VIII office to enact at the start of next school year.

“NSTA is very pleased with FTA's recent decision in our complaint against Yankton Transit,” NSTA President Magda Dimmendaal said. “All transit operators, rural and urban, are subject to FTA's school bus regulations, and we are glad to see violations such as this recognized and enforced by FTA. We are working with local operators to assist in the efforts for a transition plan to restore yellow school bus service to the area.” 

To read the FTA's ruling in full, click here.