It’s hard for me to believe 2023’s already come and gone in a blur of school transportation news coverage – including the return of School Bus Fleet ConneX and the annual meeting of the National Association for Pupil Transportation.
I don’t get the sense we’ll see much of a slowdown in 2024.
Rolling Toward Zero-Emission School Bus Future
As the January issue went to press, we heard who applied for – and who received – Clean School Bus grants from the Environmental Protection Agency. And on Feb. 14, it’s down to the wire for everyone chasing the EPA’s latest school bus rebate program.
Calendar pages keep flipping toward the mandates set in states like New York and California to transition their school bus fleets from diesel to zero-emission, but there’s plenty of reluctance and pushback. In California, the L.A. Times reported that rural school districts aren’t in a rush to shift away from diesel buses, especially when it comes to longer-range field trips and school activities.
In New York, State Sen. George Borrello and 14 Republican colleagues sent a letter asking Gov. Kathy Hochul to rescind the mandate that all new school buses be zero-emission by 2027.
“School officials in my district are all sounding the alarm about the state’s unfunded electric bus mandate and the crushing financial costs it will mean for districts,” the letter reads. “With the first deadline in just three short years, school officials are deeply concerned about their ability to afford the electric buses and infrastructure upgrades that will be necessary.”
Concerns about infrastructure for zero-emission buses remain an evergreen concern among districts considering propane, electric, and biodiesel vehicles across the United States. Check out the report from Associate Editor Christy Grimes in the January issue about how the different fuel types stack up in that arena.
Putting the Brakes on Illegal School Bus Passing
We’re also keeping our eyes on the increased occurrences of illegal passing of stopped school buses in 2024, and really hope to see the statistics improve when the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conducts its next survey on the topic.
The choir members reading this don’t need me preaching anymore, but I’m optimistic that the work the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is committed to getting done on its public messaging campaign can help mitigate the problem.
Bus Driver Shortage Continues
And what about the nationwide school bus driver shortage? That still poses a threat to the efficient transportation of children between home and school each day. In my home state of North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper in August allocated $1 million in federal funding to the state Department of Transportation to boost capacity for school bus driver training.
“North Carolina desperately needs more school bus drivers, and the way to get them is to pay them more and train them faster,” Cooper said.
Paying drivers more is absolutely necessary but training them right is more important than training them quickly, no matter where the school district is located.
Unintended Consequences of High-Tech Safety Features?
One last item on my 2024 watch list is the expected final rulemaking related to automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems on heavy vehicles, including school buses. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and NHTSA are expected to release the final rule in June.
Ronna Weber, executive director of NASDPTS, in comments about the proposal wrote: “Every day and in every way, the school transportation industry strives to ensure the highest safety standards for the nation’s school children as they travel to and from school. The addition of this requirement would only further increase the safety of the yellow school bus and we are pleased to see FMCSA and NHTSA moving forward with this proposal.”
But the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) didn’t seem as confident in the idea just yet, particularly because of incidents of false deployments of the automatic systems that resulted in a 2021 recall of Tesla vehicles.
Wrote NSTA Executive Director Curt Macysyn: “Therefore, it is imperative that errors in AEB technology are resolved before requiring this equipment on school buses. Not only could an error in AEB technology cause potential harm to school children, but sudden stops of heavy-duty vehicles could cause harm to surrounding vehicles.”
I’m hoping the agencies take these concerns into serious consideration.
Reach out to School Bus Fleet Executive Editor Wes Platt at firstname.lastname@example.org.