NAPA VALLEY, Calif. — Many of Napa Valley Unified School District’s hybrid buses are currently out of service because the California Highway Patrol (CHP) maintains that their green rub rails do not comply with state and national standards.  

A section of Title 13 in the California Code of Regulations that covers school bus color and signs indicates that the exterior of a school bus must be yellow, with the exception of bumpers, grilles, lamp bodies and other accessories. (Therefore, the hybrid buses' green bumpers are permitted.) Title 13 also says that a bus' moldings and rub rails “may be black.”   

Napa Valley Unified School District Director of Transportation Ralph Knight told SBF in an interview that he understands California Title 13 requirements, but he noted that a statutory provision allows for exemptions.

He assembled a package with letters of support from the American Lung Association, Clean Cities coordinators, fire marshals and other groups and requested an exemption from CHP Commissioner Joseph Farrow. Farrow denied the request.

In a letter to Knight, he wrote, “The National School Bus Standards Conference establishes recommendations for nationwide standard school bus colors and markings, to ensure the vehicles are clearly distinguishable as vehicles transporting schoolchildren. Deviation from these standards must be strictly regulated to minimize the potential adverse effect associated with reduced regulation.”

Farrow also said that universally recognized markings that identify a vehicle as one that uses an alternative fuel are currently required by both federal and state regulations, but “do not include the use of green rub rails on school buses.”

Knight has several issues with Farrow’s response. He said that the color of rub rails is up to the discretion of individual states and is not part of the national school bus standards. Nevada allows green rub rails, and Colorado allows rub rails that are not black, according to Knight.

He also said he does not understand how green rub rails could have an adverse effect.  

“I don’t feel that the change from black rails to green rails is going to endanger kids on the bus,” he said, adding that he believes that the green rub rails actually contribute to the safety of students and first responders by drawing attention to the fact that the buses are powered by an alternative fuel.    

“In an emergency, we don’t want first responders to cut into a sidewall and run into a 300-volt wire,” Knight explained.

In addition, he believes that the green rub rails could help draw the attention of other motorists, thereby causing them to stop for the bus instead of illegally passing it.  

Knight said he is working with legislators to propose changes to the wording of Title 13 in the California Code of Regulations that would allow for rub rails to be a color other than black.

In the meantime, Knight has put black vinyl tape over the green rub rails of his wheelchair-equipped hybrid buses because he said he needs to operate them.

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