TAKOMA PARK, Md. — Government and pupil transportation industry officials were on hand Tuesday to celebrate school bus drivers at a Love the Bus event here, just north of Washington, D.C.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recognized Wellington Abud, who has been a school bus driver for Montgomery County Public Schools for 10 years.

Abud shuttles students to Takoma Park Elementary School, where the event was held, and his passengers participated in the event.

"The truth is, if you rode a school bus today, which you did, that is the safest way to get to school,"' LaHood told the children. "It's safer than walking. Believe it or not, it's safer than riding with your parents in a car."

The secretary of transportation fielded a variety of questions from the kids, including, "How do you make sure the school buses are safe?" and, "Did you like being a teacher?"

LaHood later wrote about the celebration on his blog.

"I left Takoma Park with a renewed appreciation for the complicated challenge of managing a countywide network of school buses," he wrote. "But mostly I left with an appreciation for the nation's school bus drivers."

U.S. Representative Chris Van Hollen was also among the high-profile attendees.

"There may be many different school systems across the country, but the one thing they all have in common is that yellow school bus," Van Hollen told the crowd. "It's truly a national icon."

Zadia Gadsden, principal of Takoma Park Elementary, noted that "the first step toward a good education is a safe and positive experience getting to school each morning. The bus makes a difference not just in attendance, but in achievement."

The American School Bus Council (ASBC) arranged the event. In attendance were council members from the industry's national associations and the three large school bus manufacturers.

All of Takoma Park's bus drivers received gifts and recognition. Two Love the Bus cakes were served, and ASBC "Yellow School Bus Champion" T-shirts were handed out.

Alex Robinson, who is president-elect of the National Association for Pupil Transportation and ASBC's Love the Bus coordinator this year, described the event as "very successful" and said that LaHood clearly wanted to be there.

"He wasn't in a rush — his people certainly could have escorted him out of there sooner," Robinson told SBF. "He was very comfortable with the kids."

To view a Montgomery County Public Schools video of the event, go here.