Resources Safety Related Articles The History of School Transportation
The History of School Transportation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ryan Gray   
Wednesday, 01 August 2007 11:06

Watershed developments often cannot be identified with a precise start date.

Often, important developments come slowly and imperceptible until at last they gain form and shape and their presence becomes evident. Listed below are a number of these developments that helped shape the evolution of pupil transportation. They are presented in this fashion rather than in the continuum that fashions this retrospective look, precisely because these developments evolved slowly. These developments are not presented in any order of importance. Each has left an indelible mark on pupil transportation.

Source: This article originally appeared in the November 1999 edition of School Transportation News and was updated in the August 2007 issue. More recent updates have been made by the STN editorial staff.

  • 2011 under construction
  • 2010:  In a year of distracted driving awareness reaching the public mainstream along with battles against the Swine Flu, the emergence of Facebook and social networking for business as well as pleasure and Thomas Built Buses naming the first female president of a school bus manufacturer in Kelley Platt, the industry also saw the issues of the struggling economy take center stage. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided some relief with regard to new school bus purchases and retrofits and mony for special needs programs, Head Start, Title I and employee hires, but that money was essentially exhausted by the end of the year ... The industry also braced for a big decision: EGR or SCR as the preferred solution for meeting 2010 EPA diesel engine emissions standards to limit levels of NOx pollutants, which went into effect in January ... On Oct. 29, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published three proposed changes to the October 2008 final rule on seat belts in school  buses centering on how the height of occupant torso belts are measured, integrated seat belts for wheelchairs and the self-latching requirement for seat cushions ... A University of Alabama study group formed in response to a fatal Huntsville school bus crash three years earlier published its final report to Gov. Bob Riley and the Alabama Department of Education that the funds required to equip school buses with seat belts is best spent mitigating student injuries and fatalities that occur during loading or unloading. However, the study's lead researcher admitted to the annual NAPT and NASDPTS conferences in Portland, Ore., in November that the study failed to adequately study the impact of school bus seats with new technology that allows for three smaller children to sit buckled up or two larger students ... Passed in 2007, a Texas law requiring lap/shoulder seat belts on newly manufactured school buses went into effect on Sept. 1 only for those school districts seeking to receive reimbursement for the additional cost of these school buses from the state. This makes the state requirements for implementation of school bus seat belts voluntary, only holding school districts to the letter of the law if they received state funding. But absent was the $10 million in funds authorized by the state legislature to reimburse school districts. That pot of money shrunk to $3.6 million in January by the Texas Education Agency after Gov. Rick Perry ordered at least a 5 percent cut of programs statewide. The Legislative Budget Board signed off on the allocation of funds on Sept. 2. At this writing, TEA was working out details before issuing further guidance to school districts informing them of the procedures to follow when applying for the grant money. This was likely to occur in October 2010 with funds being disbursed by the end of the year, according to a TEA spokesperson. The Texas Transportation Institute completed a draft implementation plan in June and submitted it to the Legislative Budget Board, which released the plan publicly on Sept. 2. TEA issued guidance to school districts in October on how to go about applying for the voluntary funds.
  • 2009: NHTSA conducted a follow-up study that agreed with a 1986 study that concluded that that school buses without seat belts have little if any carryover effects to school children and if they use a seat belt in a personal vehicle.
  • 2008: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued on Oct. 15 a long-awaited final rule that updated FMVSS 207, 208, 210 and 222 by requiring all new Type A school buses that weigh 10,000 pounds or less and that are manufactured on or after Sept. 1, 2011 be equipped with three-point, lap/shoulder belt systems. NHTSA stopped short of requiring the seat belts on all school buses, instead opting for voluntary requirements for equipping large buses weighing more than 10,000 pounds with systems. NHTSA said the requirement will cost the industry about $100 million to implement and on average will save one life a year. The NPRM also called for seat back heights in all buses to be raised to 24 inches from the current requirement of 20 inches and for a self-latching mechanism on all seat bottom cushions. Later in October at annual conference of the National Association for State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services. Dr. Roger Saul, director of NHTSA's Vehicle Research and Testing Center, said further side-impact crash testing was not necessary to show whether lap/shoulder belts in large buses should be a requirement and that their installation should be a voluntary choice made by states or local school districts.
  • 2007: On Nov. 19, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters announces a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for enhancing school bus occupant protection by adding seat belts to increase the safety of compartmentalization. The NPRM outline guidelines for three-point lap/shoulder seat belts in all small Type A school buses. NHTSA calls for voluntary use of three-point the same restraint systems in large school buses citing possible reduced passenger capacityand the increased costs of the seat belts. Instead, NHTSA calls for an increase in seat back heights to 24 inches from their current 20 inches, implementing test procedures for all three-point seat belts in buses to ensure strength of the anchorages and the compatibility of the seat with compartmentalization and requiring all school buses with seat bottom cushions designed to flip up for easy maintenance to have a self-latching mechanism.

    On July 11, a NHTSA-sponsored school bus seat belt summit is held in Washington, D.C., to discuss the feasibility of three-point lap/shoulder belts on school buses and other enhances to occupant protection.

    Texas passes and signs into law school bus lap/shoulder restraint law in June; law to become effective in 2010, if funding is available. To date [June 2, 2011], no money has been appropriated for mandatory usage, only a grant fund administered by the Texas Education Agency.

  • 2006: IC Corporation launches hybrid electric school bus pilot program. Thomas produces its last FS65 Type C.

  • 2005: Cerberus Capital Management acquires Blue Bird after OEM emerges from bankruptcy. California lap/shoulder restraint law for large school buses goes into effect in July.


  • 2004: Thomas Built Buses opens Saf-T-Liner® C2 manufacturing plant in High Point, N.C. California lap/shoulder restraint law for small school buses goes into effect in July.

  • 2002: NHTSA publishes Report to Congress on School Bus Crashworthiness. California extends implementation of lap/shoulder restraint law to large school buses. AmTran Corp. name becomes IC Corporation. Blue Bird closes Mount Pleasant, Iowa factory.

  • 2001: Thomas Introduces Mercedes-Benz engines to U.S. school bus market. International begins school bus production at Tulsa, Okla., plant.

  • 2000: Carpenter Industries (originally Carpenter Body Company) ceases operations at the end of year.

  • 1999: Henleys Group PLC, a formation of three British firms, acquire Blue Bird Corp. and several school bus contracting companies in the U.S., including Ryder Student Transportation Services and Durham Transportation. The value of these several transactions exceeds $1.5 billion. NHTSA publishes guidelines for safe transportation of Pre-K children.

  • 1999: NAPT and National State Director's Association team up to support effort and in 1999 announce national public awareness campaign. Together, the associations publish the School Bus Information Council Web site. In the space of three months, Florida, Louisiana and California enact mandatory two-point or lap belt seat belt laws for school buses. Retrofitting of existing buses not permitted and usage is optional. All 50 states have operable pupil transportation programs.

  • 1998: NHTSA announces a two-year study of next generation occupant protection systems for school buses. Globalization of automotive vehicle specifications under auspices of the European Commission. NHTSA is U.S. federal government agency that commits U.S. to global standards for vehicle manufacturing. Thomas Built Buses becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Freightliner LLC. $28 million awarded two students injured in Flagstaff, Ariz. school bus accident in largest school bus related civil judgement in history.

  • 1997: NHTSA issues $1,000 fines against several automobile dealers for knowingly selling non-conforming vans to schools for student transportation purposes. Action raises public awareness of the dangers of non-conforming vans in school service, and among Head Start & daycare providers.

  • 1995: Frank Cyr, the father of the yellow school bus, dies on Aug. 1 at a nursing home in Stamford, N.Y. He was 95 ... Harsco BMY Wheeled Vehicles shutters Wayne plant in Marysville, Ohio; leaves school bus business ... Simms v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ... Contractor Lyle Stephens challenged NHTSA's standards for securing wheelchairs.

  • 1994: Concept of public awareness campaign for school bus industry first launched by Verna Borders at state association meeting in Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Montana. Formalized and launched nationally by California Association of School Transportation Officials in 1996 ... School Transportation News offers first "Internet" presence in industry with a text-based bulletin board. Converts to World Wide Web a year later. Within five years, more than 200 Web sites devoted to school buses and pupil transportation are published on the Internet ... SOWHAT Committee organized to develop wheelchair crashworthiness standards. Three year project envisoned. Dean Transportation helps fund project with $50,000 donation.

  • 1993: Harsco Corp.'s BMY Wheel Vehicles Division acquires Wayne Corporation in January. Company renamed Wayne Wheeled Vehicles, and first buses roll out on September 11... A Thomas Built CNG drives across country in 35 days ... Gillig ceases production of all school buses with final Type C.

  • 1992: Federal School Bus Standard 17 renamed "Guideline 17" ... The inaugural National Conference and Exhibition on Transporting Students with Disabilities; creates national forum for special needs transportation ...Flint MTA (Mich.) wins bid to service Flint Community School District. Sets stage for legal action by Lamers Bus Lines to strengthen tripper regulations ... School Bus Supplier Council organized as subcommittee of NASDPTS to represent interests of manufacturers and suppliers to the industry; raises more than $100,000 annually to fund the activities of the National State Directors Association.

  • 1991: Era of mergers and acquisitions among chassis and bus body manufacturers inaugurated when chassis builder Navistar International purchases one-third interest in school bus body builder AmTran Corp. Action initiated by AmTran executives. Navistar exercises an option and completes the purchase in 1995 ... General Electric finds Crown operation unprofitable and closes the factory on March 31 ... Carpenter Industries (formerly Carpenter Body Company) of Mitchell, Ind., purchases at auction the tooling and product rights to build Crown Coaches on May 21 ... School Transportation News print magazine launches with September issue. The magazine features a report on NHTSA's investigation of 13 years of school bus crash data to explain why the vehicles are the safest form of surface transportation available to students.

  • 1989: Transportation Research Board publishes Special Report 222: Improving School Bus Safety ... TAM-USA enters U.S. school bus market with transit-style bus manufactured in Slovenia, a break-away republic of former Yugoslavia.

  • 1988: Kadrmas v. Dickinson Public schools, 108 s. Ct. 2481. This U.S. Supreme Court case determined that a state's decision to allow local school boards the option of charging a user fee for transportation is permissible ...Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305. This U.S. Supreme Court case held that dangerous students with disabilities are subject to IDEA procedural safeguards.
  • 1987: New York became the first state to mandate two-point seat belts on large school buses. Usage optional and depends on school board adopting policy mandating use. The law does not permit retrofitting existing school buses with lap belts ... New Jersey becomes the second state in the nation to mandate two-point seat belts on large school buses. Mandates usage ... Catastrophic school bus accidents in Carrolton, Ky. and Alton Tex., together with National Academy of Sciences Special Report 222 a couple of years later, promoted development of the second wave of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses. Within less than a decade new regulations were promulgated for emergency exits, seat cover flammability, mirrors, wheelchairs lifts, etc. ... The National Transportation Safety Board published a study about the Crashworthiness of Large Poststandard School Buses. The NTSB examined 43 serious accidents. It did not recommend that Federal school bus safety standards be amended to require that all new large school buses be equipped with lap belts for passengers. Instead, the NTSB concluded the safety benefits of such actions, both in terms of reduced injuries for school bus passengers and in seat belt use habit formation, had not been proven ...GE Railcar Services, a unit of the General Electric, purchases Crown and renames division Crown Coach Incorporated
  • 1986: Congress enacts Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, creating a new, federal Commercial Drivers License. By the early 1990s, states nationwide had implemented the law. School bus industry lobbied to make school bus drivers subject to the law ... AmTran introduces the first "semi-forward" control bus, called the "Patriot", on a modified GMC conventional chassis.
  • 1985: AmTran introduces the first 23-passenger cutaway school bus, called the "Vanguard", at the Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference in New Orleans.
  • 1984: International Harvester ceases to offer gasoline engines to school bus industry; switches entirely to diesel engines ... Canadian financier Michael deGroote launches Laidlaw when he acquires 3,000 buses from the student transportation division of ARA Services.
  • 1982: Gillig ceases production of its Type D transit-style school bus.
  • 1980: Crown Coach Corporation sold and renamed as Crown Coach International ... Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton takes active role in financial restructuring of Ward Bus Co. following the school bus manufacturer's slide into bankruptcy. Company emerges from bankruptcy as American Transportation Corp., or AmTran ... Organization of the National Coalition for Seatbelts on School Buses, a grass roots advocacy association that lobbied for enactment of seat belts on school buses, elimination of standees on school buses, and elimination of pre-1977 school buses. Ceases operation in early 1990s, reactivated as National Coalition for School Bus Safety in 1997.
  • July 1, 1977: Adoption of the 1977 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses, consisting of three new regulations together with modifications to four existing regulations that to this day govern the construction of all school buses in the U.S.
  • 1976: An amendment to the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 requested the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to consider the benefits of seat belts or other occupant restraints in school buses.
  • 1975: Education For All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 guarantees free appropriate public education including special education and related services, to all handicapped children ... International Harvester introduces the DT466 diesel engine ... Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 enacted; federal law requires free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students in any of 13 disability categories. Since FAPE includes related services, and transportation is identified as a related service, this law has had a singular impact on school transportation. IDEA is now in its 6th reauthorization.
  • 1974: Congress orders eight specific minimum performance standards for school buses ... Publication of Federal School Bus Standard 17 which described the federal government's role in pupil transportation. Renamed "Guideline 17" in 1992 ... School bus tripper regulations issued defining permissible pupil transportation service by publicly funded mass transit agencies ... National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) organized to represent the interests of school district and other publicly-owned school bus operations.
  • 1973: St. Germain Amendment approved to Federal Aid Highway Act of 1973; this amendment was designed to protect private school bus contractors from competition by publicly funded mass transit ... $1 million in federal 402 funds appropriated by Congress for school bus driver training ... Rehabilitation Act of 1973 enacted by Congress. Section 504 mandates nondiscriminatory treatment of students with disabilities. Requires that transportation, like other educational services, be provided in a manner that gives disabled students equivalent access to educational opportunities when compared with that available to nondisabled peers.
  • 1972: NHTSA begins rulemaking leading to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 222: Occupant Seating Protection in School Buses.
  • 1971: Formation of the Vehicle Equipment Specifications Commission. A year later the VESC-6 specifications titled Minimum Requirements for School Bus Construction and Equipment were published. These specifications covered school bus joint strength, seat strength and seat anchorage strength. The VESC-6 specifications were the predecessors to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for school buses promulgated in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s ... NSTA sponsors first National School Bus Roadeo; the event is renamed the International School Bus Driver Safety Competition in the mid-1990s. By century's end an estimated 200,000 school bus drivers participate annually in state and local roadeos.
  • 1970: Beginning of court-ordered busing for racial integration purposes ... First School Bus Loading & Unloading Zone Survey conducted and published by the Kansas Dept. of Transportation. The survey, now in its 30th year, brings school bus safety and fatality rate to the attention of the American public ... National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) established by the Highway Safety Act of 1970.
  • 1969: Ward Industries conducts a Rivet Survey to ascertain how many rivets were used by school bus builders in school bus construction based on 1964 crash test. Answer: 232 rivets to 4,000 rivets per bus. Ward publishes results. Discovery of the paucity of rivets in some buses aids in the development of the first joint strength standard for school buses.
  • 1968: National School Transportation Association (NSTA) organized to represent private school bus contractors ... National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) organized to represent interests of highest official in state governments responsible for pupil transportation.
  • 1967: Society of Automotive Engineers study at UCLA leads to calls for two-point seat belts, high back seats and other occupant protection strategies for school buses; the term "compartmentalization" enters public discourse, setting the stage for the Great Seat Belt Debate ... National Transportation Safety Board established as an independent federal agency promoting highway, aviation, railroad, marine, pipeline, and hazardous materials safety. NTSB school bus Highway Accident reports bring school bus crashes to nationwide attention ... Ward School Bus Manufacturing Co. introduced the conveyor belt-driven, continually moving assembly line to school bus manufacturing ... Associated Charter Bus Co. of Van Nuys, Calif., becomes first school bus contractor to trade its stock publicly, raises $5 million on the American Stock Exchange.
  • 1966: Congress passes National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and creates the National Highway Safety Bureau, a predecessor to NHTSA.
  • 1965: Bobit Publishing Co. launches School Bus Fleet magazine; begins era of mass communication among school transporters.
  • 1964: The National Association of School Bus Contract-Operators (NASBCO), a forerunner of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), is formed by a small group of school bus contract-operators and manufacturers unhappy about an unfair 10 percent excise tax being levied on their buses. The group convened to elect officers and board members, and adopted a constitution and bylaws. Together, this newly formed group was able to achieve victory over the 10 percent tax ... School Bus Manufacturers Institute (SBMI) organized ... Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 creates publicly funded public transportation industry. Law formally splits s federally funded public transit from state and locally funded school bus transportation ... Ward Industries school bus rollover test in the first major test of school bus crashworthniess. Bus rolls 5 1/4 times, demonstrating weakness in joint strength, seat anchorages and window retention based on manufacturing techniques of the day ... Charles Ward of Ward Bus Co. begins use of IBM 402 mainframe computer for inventory and payroll and financial records; utilizing an IBM 360, the company began to database state laws, regulations and specifications for school buses.
  • Mid-1960s: Consumer advocate Ralph Nadar criticizes school bus manufacturing techniques, coining the term "cookie cutter buses" to describe school buses. Raises public awareness about school transportation.
  • 1963: School Bus Safety Week organized in California by Dick Fischer; became a national program in 1970.
  • 1962: Thomas Built Buses of Canada, Ltd., opens 10,000 square-foot plant in Woodstock, Ontario. 1960s also sees Thomas plants opened in Ecuador and Peru.
  • 1959: Development of the National Safety Council school bus safety section.
  • 1954: Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed "separate but equal" facilities and segregation in general ... Defense Highway Act of 1954 led directly to the suburbanization of America. Provided for nearly 47,000 miles of federal highway.
  • 1951: Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference holds first formal meeting.
  • 1948: Albert L. Luce, Sr. buys flat-nose bus on GM chassis at Paris Auto show. Two years later, Blue Bird introduces the All-American transit-style bus to the school transportation industry.
  • 1945: U.S. Office of Education publishes a bulletin titled "Training School Bus Drivers."
  • 1942: Alabama School Transportation holds first state association conference. By the end of the century more than 75 industry-related state associations were organized ... World War II halts all school bus production and bus builders turn to war material production.
  • 1939: Partially funded by Rockefeller monies, Columbia University's Dr. Frank Cyr organized the first School Bus National Minimum Standards Conference. In the interim 12 standards conferences - producing hundreds of minimum safety standards for the industry - have been developed. The 15th National Conference on School Transportation is scheduled for May 2010 ... Adoption of school bus yellow color for school buses.
  • 1938: Survey of practices to purchase school buses in U.S. titled "Pupil Transportation in the United States" by C. S. Noble, Jr. under direction of Dr. Frank Cyr ... The National Safety Council publishes a pamphlet titled "School Buses: Their Safe Design and Operation" ... Gillig begins production of its transit-style school bus.
  • 1937: International Trucks offers a diesel option for school buses in every vehicle weight classification.
  • 1936: Perley A. Thomas wins North Carolina bid for 500 motorized, wooden school buses. Company transitions to school bus manufacturing from street car manufacturing.
  • 1935: Crown begins production of Supercoach, a larger integral design and more streamlined than the 1932 style with air brakes.
  • 1933: Ward School Bus Manufacturing Inc. founded by Dave H. "D.H." Ward in Conway, Ark.
  • 1932: Gillig manufacturers its first school bus, a conventional built on a White truck chassis ... Crown manufactures its first complete school bus.
  • 1931: On this March 26, the Pleasant Hills School Bus Tragedy in which five children froze to death, started with the worst storm in 56 years in southeastern Colorado ... Superior manufactures first all-steel school bus with safety glass.
  • 1930-31: Study by C.S. Noble, Jr. titled "Public School Bus Transportation in North Carolina."
  • 1927: Albert L. Luce, Sr. builds the first steel-body school bus. Within eight years, all other major school bus manufacturers were building steel body school buses ... Columbia University doctoral dissertation by R.L. Johns who developed the theory that the cost per pupil transported was proportional to the density of pupils transported living the area.
  • 1923: Superior Coach Corporation (later Superior Body Co.) formed in April to build passenger bus bodies for Garford Truck Co., of Lima.
  • 1919: All 48 states in the contiguous United States have enacted laws allowing the use of public funds for transporting school children ... Ralph H. Carpenter Body Company was founded in Mitchell, Ind.
  • 1916: Perley A. Thomas Car Works, the predecessor to Thomas Built Buses, is founded as a manufacturer and renovator of streetcars.
  • 1915: Navistar manufactures first school bus, the Model F, for Rivinia School District in South Dakota; the company's name in 1915 was International Trucks.
  • 1914: Wayne works develops motorized kid hack, a predecessor to the modern school bus.
  • 1904: Carriage and wagon builder Don M. Brockway establishes Crown Carriage Company in Central Los Angeles.
  • 1900: At the dawn of the century 17 states had operable pupil transportation programs, starting with Massachusetts in 1869.
  • 1886: Wayne Works of Richmond , Ind. , produces horse drawn "school cars," also known as "school carriages" or "school hacks."
Last Updated on Monday, 29 October 2012 15:56