|Written by Staff|
|Sunday, 01 June 2008 00:00|
NSTA gets an ear on the Capitol Hill during annual Spring board meeting and lobbying visit
WASHINGTON, D.C. — After six years of lobbying efforts, the federal government is beginning to understand the privately contracted side of the school transportation industry, according to National School Transportation Association past president John Corr. When he first started going to these meetings first started five years ago, many representatives did not even know private companies ran school transportation operations. With a looming security threat assessment, $4 a gallon diesel, increasing costly demands to “go green,” NSTA’s annual visit to the nation’s Capitol could not have come at a better time.
In the Cross Hairs
During a closed-door session, Bill Arrington, general manager for TSA’s Highway and Motor Carrier Division, introduced Bay First Solutions LLC and ABS Consulting as the two companies the TSA has contracted to compile the report.
According to attendees, the companies explained how they were refining scenarios and would, with the help of the industry, develop a risk model for each scenario. While there will be no more meetings before the report’s August due date, TSA pledged to continue communicating via e-mail. In the weeks following their meeting with NSTA, the consultants said they would meet with representatives from emergency responders and organized labor groups to collect further input.
The congressman who first got school bus security language inserted into the post-9/11 HR 1 bill, Rep. Bob Etheridge (D. — N.C), said he was “pleased” with TSA’s progress. Still, he said he would press the administration for a clearer time line for producing the report.
Some legislation may be required to enhance school bus security. While the TSA could screen drivers against a terrorist watch list, it cannot pull the school bus or passenger endorsement on commercial driver’s license nor could it notify the employer. According to a TSA spokesperson, the administration only has the authority to remove a driver’s hazardous materials endorsement and contacting employers would be the responsibility of law enforcement.
The Green to Go Green
The Environmental Protection Agency will dole out $49.2 million in diesel emissions reduction grants this year. But federal funding amounts to about one-third of a similar grant program in California. Additionally, only public entities, like school districts and non-profits can apply for these grants directly.
In the past, private contractors have partnered with non-profits and applied collectively under the NSTA umbrella. In fact, the association was preparing for a massive collective grant for idle-reducing auxiliary power units. But NSTA members said opening grants to the nearly one-third of school buses that are privately held would put more clean school buses on the streets.
At least one representative, John Shimkus (R – Ill.), said he would look into making the change.
NSTA also urged House representatives to view school buses as part of public transportation. U.S. Department of Transportation recently gave California metro buses $213 million to help reduce congestion. While school buses are technically eligible for federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) funding, NSTA industry specialist Robin Leeds said the metropolitan planning agencies that manage these funds often disregard school buses.
Rep. Doris Marsui (D – Calif.) said she would look into making CMAQ and mass transit funding more available to school buses. Just a week before analysts for investment firm Goldman Sachs predicted crude oil prices could rise to $200 a barrel within the next two years, Matsui said fuel prices would likely never decrease significantly. She suggested government look at creative ways to move people, including school buses.
Money in the Tank
Currently, school buses are exempt from a diesel fuel tax that supports highway infrastructure. But, the highway fund is expected go bankrupt before a 2009 funding reauthorization, according to NSTA’s Leeds. This poses the question: How will the country continue to pay for road and bridge repair?
Paul Losos and his fellow NSTA delegates hoped it would not come from their pockets. The vice president of Chicago-based Sunrise Transportation said the 24 cent per gallon tax would translate to an additional $500 annual cost for each of the 280 buses in his fleet. If this exemption were to go away, contractors like Losos would likely have to pass the cost on to the cash-strapped districts they serve.
Corr said he was confident the exemption would be continued. But Rep. Mike Thompson (D. – Calif.) did little to quell others’ worries. The member of the House Ways and Means Committee said every exemption would be on the table.Protecting PrivatesAfter a tumultuous court case regarding alleged violations of school transportation regulations by a public transit authority in Rochester, N.Y., NSTA came to Capitol Hill looking for ways to safeguard private contractors from what they see as unfair encroachment from transit companies.
Currently, it seems the association has the allies it needs. During a board dinner, FTA Deputy Director Sherry Little said she and the Bush administration were private industry advocates and said she would use her remaining six months in office to look at making more opportunities for the private sector in transportation.
NSTA’s Corr said the association would proceed with a suit against a transit agency in Dayton, Ohio, while at the same time working with the FTA to tighten tripper rules. The association is also monitoring a disputed operation in Sioux City, Iowa.
Additionally, the association plans to fight what Corr called “anti-business plans.” A number of states, including California, Illinois, Minnesota and Oregon have recently debated bills that would limit how schools can contract services, like transportation.
Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-Tenn.) pledged his opposition to any anti-privatization efforts.
“I understand your industry, and I’ll try and help you anyway I can,” Rep. Duncan said.
|Last Updated on Monday, 11 January 2010 11:45|