The National Association for Pupil Transportation released a statement that it does not support a school bus tour organized by Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) that calls attention to the disrepair of the nation's roads and bridges and the need for Congress to pass a federal highway bill this year.
NAPT Executive Director Michael Martin said it was "disappointing" LiUNA chose to use a school bus in the "Getting Schooled in Infrastructure" tour, adding that the school bus is used as a "prop in a denigrating fashion."
The tour began Monday at the I-495 bridge in Wilmington, Del., which was closed indefinitely earlier this month because of safety concerns. One-fourth of the nation's bridges are deficient or obsolete, according to LiUNA. Meanwhile, the Highway Trust Fund is nearing a zero balance, and without congressional action, the fund will completely cease distribution to states for highway projects on Oct. 1.
The LiUNA school bus was crushed and outfitted with a piece of pipe affixed to the top front that resembles a large piece of fallen bridge. The bus is scheduled to travel through more than 22 cities and congressional districts. The campaign also includes radio ads, billboards, online activity and grassroots action.
"It's time to stop sugar-coating this issue," said LiUNA General President Terry O'Sullivan in a statement Monday. "We are not trying to scare people, but we are trying to wake people and Congress up."
However, Martin emailed all NAPT members Tuesday and stated, "We disagree strongly with their tactic of using school buses as a gimmick to get attention."
"The apparent intent of LiUNA's campaign is to create an impression to the media and public that children riding in school buses are unsafe without the Highway Bill funding LiUNA is seeking," he noted. "This message is incorrect, misinforms students and parents alike and, most importantly, is irresponsible."
Richard Greer, director of strategic communications for LiUNA, told STN that NAPT misconstrued the campaign, adding that the organization has "great respect" for school buses as well as those who drive them.
"We would love for them to join us in our effort to make our roads and bridges safer for our school children and all those who travel on our roads," said Greer. "We don't think that unsafe roads discriminate. But I think we would all agree that the most cherished of those on our roads are our children. Because unsafe roads don't discriminate, I think we can join together and say we need to improve our roads and bridges for their sake."
Martin asked NAPT members to let him or the association's board of directors know if the tour negatively impacts their local operations. He also shared NAPT's Public Policy Agenda that members can use to "positively influence the dialogue created by this campaign."