File photo courtesy John Horton

File photo courtesy John Horton

As we look down the proverbial road ahead, hopefully with the COVID-19 pandemic in our rearview mirror, the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) has been formulating a strategic plan that will guide us over the next three years and beyond.

Our Strategic Business Plan Committee chairman, Patrick Dean of Dean Transportation, has been meeting on a regular basis with his committee consisting of Claire Miller (First Student); Liz Sanchez (National Express); Pete Settle (North American Central School Bus); Barry Stock (Landmark Student Transportation); and David Zickafoose (Hilton Bus); as well as NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn, to formulate the guide rails that will help NSTA thrive in the post-pandemic environment.

Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic created a new reality in the student transportation realm. Therefore, as an organization, we have to ask: What does the revised future of yellow bus transportation look like?

We discussed the timing of this process and ultimately concluded that now is likely the best time for us to hit our own reset button. To that end, this strategic planning process, at its core, endeavors to be well-researched and developed. We are preparing our plan with the help of all our members using one-on-one conversations, focus groups, a member survey, and a live virtual facilitated discussion with industry leaders. Our desire is to have this process culminate with formally outlined and detailed objectives that will usher in a new vision for private school bus contractors.

Most of us realize that many aspects of pupil transportation look much different than they did even 15 short months ago, but honestly, an industry evolution began before anyone heard of the Coronavirus. Unfortunately, over the past 15 months, much of our time and energy has been spent on the short-term impacts of school closings, and much less activity than we are used to.

As we begin to get more post-pandemic operational management under our belts, the industry has to take the lessons learned and see what changes will become the new normal. Organizationally, we are taking a long, hard look into the mirror, and trying to develop a thoughtful, honest approach to our future. If you do not utilize honesty as a core pillar of your research and development, then the product will not be worth the paper it is written on.

In one key area, we decided to engage a professional facilitator. That person was empowered to ask the right questions and delve into areas that may have been outside our comfort level as industry practitioners. Realistically, everyone views membership in NSTA through their own unique lens, and the association wanted to ensure that the voices of large and small contractors, vendor partners, and OEM associates, are being heard equally.

Based on what I have seen so far, I believe our outreach — while not complete — has been very comprehensive.

What we can count on is that the future will bring many challenges to the industry. To that end, NSTA needs to formulate a plan to meet them. Some strategic changes we are considering center on our approach to parental attitudes toward yellow bus transportation, supporting green technologies to power our buses, ongoing and enhanced safety technologies, and ensuring a plentiful driver pool. I look forward to the final report.

Simply put, how can NSTA help position contractors in this new environment, so that parents, students, educators, administrators, and student transportation professionals align on the overriding objective to keep students safe, secure, and healthy as they seek to attain their educational objectives? I am certain that by undertaking this important process, we can move forward with clarity and confidence. Remember, with NSTA, you never travel alone.