By Ronna Sable Weber
On behalf of the nation’s private school bus providers, I take this opportunity to respond to the editorial of March 14 commenting on the recent Federal Transit Administration’s ruling on school bus operations of the Bay Area Transit Authority.
The federal law that FTA is enforcing in this decision has been on the books since 1973. For 40 years, Congress has made the correct decision to ensure publicly subsidized transit agencies are prohibited from providing school bus service in competition with non-subsidized, tax-paying private school bus companies.
For over four decades, Congress has ensured a level playing field so transit agencies cannot misuse federal transit grants. The editorial itself notes that “It would be grossly unfair to force a private firm to compete with a public transit authority supported by taxpayer dollars-including dollars paid by the private firm.” But indeed, this is just what BATA did. BATA did not solicit interest from private school bus providers prior to commencing the school bus service when in fact there are school bus companies interested in providing it, such as Dean Transportation, headquartered in Michigan.
NSTA also cares about the safety of Suttons Bay students. The yellow school bus is the safest form of transportation over all other modes, as determined by the Department of Transportation’s own statistics. Students are 50 times more likely to arrive at school alive if they take the bus than if they drive themselves or ride with friends, and 20 times more likely to arrive at school alive than if driven by a parent (NHTSA Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data). Every year nearly 480,000 school buses travel 4.3 billion miles to transport 23.5 million children.
School buses have strong structural integrity, built-in occupant protection features and traffic control devices. Their familiar bright yellow color and school bus markings alert motorists to use caution around them. Yellow school buses also operate as dedicated fleets so no strangers are allowed to share the bus with children. School buses have dedicated drivers, specially screened and trained.
Two agencies of the federal government, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, have both said all children should be transported in vehicles that meet the federal motor vehicle safety standards for school buses. Students on transit buses lose these important safety protections. NSTA members are committed to working with Suttons Bay to provide students with the safest way to and from school; the yellow school bus.
NSTA is a not-for-profit organization representing school bus companies that contract with school districts to provide pupil transportation. Members range from small companies with 10 buses or less to large providers operating as many as 60,000 school buses in multiple states. Private school bus companies provide approximately one third of the nation’s school bus service. NSTA is dedicated to safe, secure and efficient transportation of schoolchildren and works to foster improvements in all areas of pupil transportation.
About the author: Ronna Sable Weber is Executive Director of the National School Transportation Association.
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