|Written by Staff|
|Sunday, 01 July 2007 00:00|
Summer is the perfect time to catch one’s breath and recap a busy — and newsworthy — school year
Compiled from staff reports
There’s an old adage that says, “No news is good news.” What this exactly means is a mystery to us, as reporting the news is our business. Not to say that this saying is inaccurate at times, but a well-informed public, and in this case school bus industry, is of utmost importance.
The industry did take it’s share of lumps over the past 12 months, but, most headlines were positive.
And more importantly so, they indicated that the pupil transportation continues to gain steam on the national and international stage.
It was difficult to pick just a few of the most newsworthy stories from July 2006 through this month, as the editors of School Transportation News came up with at least 20 nominations.
First, officially announced just last month, there is a NHTSA public meeting heralded as the school bus seat belt summit, which brings together members of the school bus industry with representatives from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Academy of American Pediatrics and various school bus seat belt proponents and opponents to be sure. Also making the news the past 12 months on this same issue was a repeated call to action from the NTSB for NHTSA to issue additional guidance on school bus seat belts, and even a letter from NAPT executive director Mike Martin berating NHTSA for failing to, in the association’s opinion, adequately study the issue for the benefit of the states and local municipalities.
The meeting, scheduled for July 11 (see story on page 34) figured to be quite the spectacle on Capitol Hill.
Still, the industry had to weather yet another public relations storm amid questionable reporting and down-right inaccuracies promulgated in the national media after the November release of an Academy of American Pediatrics study on all school bus crashes. The paper that extrapolated the estimated number of injuries over a three-year period based on selected emergency room reports. The findings were miscontrued to mean that previous school bus injury reports were false. In fact, the study showed very much the same annual number of injuries suffered by students in school bus crashes as cited by the National Safety Council and the school bus industry at-large. But, again, the seat belt issue surfaced.
School bus safety soon returned to the national forefront weeks later after a pre-Thanksgiving crash killed four female high school students in Huntsville, Ala. It was only the state’s first school bus fatalities in four decades. A school bus carrying 40 students from the main high school campus to a technical education center swerved to avoid a student driver in a passenger car and plummeted off a freeway overpass. Following the crash, there was the familiar call for school bus seat belts, and Gov. Bob Riley called a school bus task force to study the issue. The state seemed primed to become the second in the nation behind California to call for three-point occupant restraints. On March 2, the seven member group gave Gov. Riley its report that proposed a three-year pilot study on school bus safety restraint usage and asked the National Governor’s Association to urge NHTSA to ofer new insight via definitive data. But, in the end, Alabama was beaten to the proverbial punch, or, in this case, buckle. Proving everything’s bigger in Texas, the Lone Star State passed a requirement for the lap/shoulder systems on all new school buses — and any and all vehicles including charter buses used for school activity trips — by 2010.
Then, there was a conclusion made before Congress last summer that many Head Start educators have been railing on for some time, that the federal Head Start Bureau is failing to give adequate oversight and assistance to local grantees regarding compliance with transportation regulations laid out in 45 CFR 13.10. Specifically, Head Start operations must transport children in school buses or “allowable alternate vehicles” with child restraint systems, back-up warning alarms and bus monitors. All this despite a 1 percent reduction in federal funding for the early pre-school program. The report from the Government Accountability Office seemingly worked, as President Bush signed another extension pushing back the compliance date from the beginning of 2007 to June 30.
Indeed, it was another busy news year for the yellow school bus. Following are other big news items that took place in the past year:
U.S. House Passes School Bus Safety Week Resolution
By an overwhelming majority, the U.S. House of Representatives passed on July 11, 2006 a resolution recognizing School Bus Safety Week. The measure was introduced in the fall of 2005 by Rep. Jimmy Duncan (R-TN). All three major school bus associations — NAPT, NSTA and NASDPTS — supported the proposal and had urged their members to send letters of support to their individual congressmen.
Duncan brought the H.R. 498 to the House floor for a voice vote, and it was approved.“One member cast a ‘No’ vote (during the voice vote) and promptly changed it to a ‘Yes’ to give us unanimity,” recalled Becky Weber, a pupil transportation lobbyist for NSTA and managing director of the D.C. lobbying firm BKSH & Associates. “We asked Congressman Duncan to ask for a recorded vote, which he did,” she added. “That vote occurred later Tuesday evening and was a whopping 424 to zero.”
2007 EPA Diesel Engine Regulations Kick In
The New Year brought the official age of increased reductions in diesel emissions, as set in motion by the Clean Air Act, and the school bus industry was in-line with compliance, said the major school bus OEMs and diesel engine manufacturers.All the planning, testing and pre-production of diesel engines used in school bus models was completed to meet the requirement that oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter be reduced by 90 percent over previous standards.
FirstGroup Bids to Purchase Laidlaw
The private school bus contractor landscape seemed destined to change, as of this writing, after FirstGroup of Aberdeen, Scotland announced its intention to purchase all of Laidlaw International. The acquisition of the previous biggest school bus contractor in Laidlaw Education Services had First Student, First Group’s school bus arm, poised to take over the leading market share, which would represent about 40 percent of the private school bus market with a fleet of approximately 60,000. While the deal remained contingent on approval by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Canadian federal government, the acquisition would also equate to approximately a 13 percent share of the total U.S. pupil transportation sector.
The New Mexico Statewide GPS Implementation
January, July 2007
Gov. Bill Richardson, who has since thrown his name in the hat for the Democratic presidential candidate arena, offered $2.6 million in state funds to install GPS in New Mexico’s entire 2,300 state school bus fleet, a proposal that had technology companies licking their lips from coast to coast. With the program now approved for all contractor- and district-owned school buses, the bid process was on with many companies partnering for the best chance to win the lucrative contract.
Industry Bans Personal Cell Phones for Drivers
Following a recommendation by the NTSB to prohibit cell phones used by school bus drivers, the American School Bus Council, NAPT and NSTA approved similar resolutions calling for the ban while operating student transportation. The industry position actually exceeds that of the NTSB by prohibiting the use of cellular phones or other portable electronic devices — even those equipped with hands-free devices — while driving, and banning the use of cellular phones while supervising the loading and unloading of students.
Ceberus to Buy Majority Stock in New Chrysler Auto Group
It seems like only yesterday — last September to be exact — that Cerberus Capital Management burst upon the school bus scene by acquiring Blue Bird Corporation. Then, in May, it solidified it’s place on STN’s list of the year’s biggest news developments by announcing it was acquiring the commercial auto group at the newly formed Chrysler Holdings LLC, which was created following corporate restructuring at DaimlyerChrysler. While the autoworkers’ union was cautiously awaiting the outcome, the school bus industry appeared to remain unchanged, as it was announced that Freightliner would reside under the Daimler AG flag and its business, as well as that of the bus and finance groups, including that of Thomas Built Buses, would remain unchanged.
|Last Updated on Monday, 11 January 2010 11:52|