As the 16th National Congress on School Transportation (NCST) recently reached the milestone of being in existence for over 75 years, we look back to the origins of pupil transportation. In the first document produced in 1939, the importance of pupil transportation was identified as follows:
“The safe and economical transportation of nearly 4,000,000 children to and from school every day of the school year is a matter of first importance to millions of parents and thousands of school board members in all parts of the nation. In 1938, [there were] 86,099 school buses in operation.”
Today, over 80 years later, the pupil transportation industry is providing safe, effective, efficient and healthy transportation for more than 25 million school children who ride more than 480,000 school buses each day. In addition, millions of school children ride school buses to and from activities and field trips each year.
Pupil transportation services provide a great reduction in transportation costs, a great reduction in traffic congestion and pollution, and access to education for countless students. These services continue to provide the safest way to and from school.
The 2015 National Congress on School Transportation was the latest in a series beginning in 1939 and continuing in 1945, 1948, 1951, 1954,1959, 1964, 1970, 1980,1985,1990, 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010. All congresses (referred to as “conferences” before 2005) have been made up of official representatives of state departments of education, public safety, motor vehicles, and police or other state agencies having state-wide responsibilities for the administration of student transportation; local school district personnel; contract operators; advisors from industry and representatives from other interested professional organizations and groups. Each conference has resulted in one or more publications that contain the recommendations of the respective conference.
The recommendations of specifications and procedures for school buses and their operation has been a major purpose of all conferences. The 1939 Conference was called for this sole purpose and formulated a set of recommended standards for school buses of 20 or more passengers. The 1945 Conference revised the 1939 recommendations and added standards for small vehicles with capacities of 10 to 18 passengers. Both standards were further revised by the 1948 Conference. There were additional revisions in 1959, and the 1964 Conference added standards for school buses to be used in transporting students with disabilities. In addition to revising standards for larger vehicles, the 1970 Conference refined the standards for school buses designed to transport fewer than 24 passengers.
Other major issues in student transportation have received attention at these national conferences. On several occasions, recommendations concerned primarily with other vehicles overtaking and passing school buses were transmitted to the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances for consideration in connection with revisions of the Uniform Vehicle Code. The 1948 Conference made recommendations on uniform records and reports for student transportation. The major purpose of the 1948 Conference was the formulation of recommendations related to standards and training programs for school bus drivers. These recommendations were revised by the 1959 Conference, and a new publication on the topic was issued. The 1954 Conference gave considerable time to the discussion of the extended use of school buses in the school program. The 1970 Conference also adopted standards for school bus operation (issued in a separate report).
The 1980 Conference updated the standards for school bus chassis and bodies, rewrote the complete standards for the specially equipped school bus, and included definitions for Types A, B, C and D buses. One of the major tasks of the 1980 Conference was to revise the standards to remove any conflicts with superseding federal regulations, many of which were mandated by sections of the Motor Vehicle and School Bus Safety Amendments of 1974 (Public Law 93-492).
The 1985 Conference updated the standards for school bus chassis, bodies, special education and operations procedures. A major project was completed in the adoption of a uniform school bus accident reporting form. This form was designed to standardize school bus accident data reporting throughout the school transportation industry. Major issues such as safety inside the vehicle, loading and unloading, emergency procedures and special education were discussed with appropriate resolutions calling for future research and implementation being passed.
The 1990 Conference removed the word minimum from the title of the Conference publication. The format of the conference publication was reorganized into two parts: Standards for School Buses and Standards for Operations. All sub-parts, such as Accident Reporting and Special Education Transportation, were incorporated into the section on the School Bus or the section on Operations. A major change also was incorporated into the procedures for the 1990 Conference. Any mandatory standard could be recommended for a special vote for forwarding action to the appropriate federal agency with a request for rulemaking. This rulemaking request would be an attempt to have a standard adopted at the Conference become a federally mandated requirement. For this forwarding action to be approved, any such item had to receive a two-thirds affirmative vote. The delegation approved forwarding action on standards for mirrors, emergency exits, accident reporting and special education transportation. This procedural change was carried forward for the 1995 Conference.
The 1995 Conference was the first to begin to address the expanded role of student transportation as prescribed in the revised Highway Safety Program Guideline #17 - Pupil Transportation Safety. The revised Guideline became effective May 29,1991, and this was the first conference convened since its adoption. Transportation of pre-kindergarten age students, including infants and toddlers, was addressed for the first time. A comprehensive section dealing with the use of alternative fuels in school bus operations was discussed and included in the publication. A new section, “Terms and Definitions,” was added to the appendices to promote consistency throughout the industry, to consolidate into one resource the acronyms, abbreviations and standard terms used in the industry and to provide easy access to definitions of terms used or referenced within the Specifications and Procedures document.
The 2000 Conference included significant discussion of the purpose and intended use of the document, which had been known in previous conferences as the National Standards for School Transportation. Leading up to the 2000 Conference, arguments were made for retention in the title of the term Standards or adoption of the new term Guidelines. These deliberations were an attempt to accurately describe the document to state and local transportation providers, industry suppliers, governmental oversight agencies, representatives of the legal profession and other users. The new title approved by the delegates was the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures. A significant majority of the delegates believed that title described the actual contents and intended use of the document more precisely. The Introduction was expanded to explain clearly that the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures comprises recommendations of the delegates to the states and other potential users of the document. It also clarified that these entities may choose, under their respective regulatory authorities, to adopt all, part or none of the specifications and procedures into laws or regulations, as they deemed appropriate.
Other significant changes or additions adopted by the 2000 Conference delegates included a new side-intrusion test for school bus bodies, a strong recommendation to states to require the use of school buses or buses having equivalent crash protection for all student transportation, reorganization of the operations sections into a more user-friendly format, sanctioning of the recent federal guidelines for seating of pre-school age students, conformance of the procedures for transportation of students with disabilities with updated federal regulations, and a new section on school bus inspection.
In 2005, the delegates changed the name of the conference to the National Congress on School Transportation to describe more accurately the longstanding nature of the proceedings, involving deliberation and decision-making following parliamentary procedure. Significant changes or additions adopted by the 2005 Congress delegates included a request to the School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council (SBMTC) to develop specifications for the fire-blocking performance of school bus chassis firewalls; clarification of the allowance for either black or yellow trim coloration on school bus bodies; augmentation of the recently updated Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 217 (Bus Emergency Exits and Windows Retention and Release) to include additional roof hatches; accommodation of the new multifunction school activity bus sub-category of school buses; a recommendation to require “high-back” passenger seats in all large school buses as a further improvement to school bus passenger crash protection; a recommendation to require noise- canceling switches for use by school bus operators during railroad crossings; a recommendation, based on research findings, to prohibit the installation of two-point lap belts in large school buses, except to secure child safety restraint systems; elimination of requirements that were duplicative of recent federal and Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standards for specially equipped school buses; new operational procedures calling for reduced school bus engine idling, use of two-way communications systems, and required post-trip checks of buses by drivers for unattended children; the addition of new sections on School Transportation Security and School Activity Transportation; and updating the sections “Transportation for Students with Disabilities and Special Health Care Needs” and “Infants, Toddlers, and Pre-school Children” to conform to recent federal reauthorizations.
For the 2010 Congress, the Steering Committee developed and implemented several operational and procedural improvements consisting of an interim amendment process and new rules for debating the recommendations of the writing committees. The amendment process provided the Steering Committee a method to address matters occurring between congresses that are too important to delay until the next five-year cycle. For example, in 2005 the delegates adopted a new section to the Specifications and Procedures document on security and emergency preparedness—almost five years after September 11, 2001. The Steering Committee believed that for the congress publication to remain current, be relevant, and serve as a model of the school transportation industry’s best practices, such a process was a necessity. To encourage greater state delegation participation and debate in the writing committee activities, the Steering Committee adopted new procedures limiting floor debate at the Congress to only those segments of the specifications and procedures document where the respective writing committee recommended new, amended, or deleted language. As a result of the new procedure, along with use of electronic voting for the first time, the 2010 Congress completed its work in three days rather than the traditional four or five days of previous congresses.
Other significant delegate actions in 2010 consisted of merging the school bus body and chassis sections into a new section entitled School Bus Specifications, and the School Bus Inspection section, initially voted down by the delegates, was later re-opened and adopted with language mirroring federal inspection criteria for commercial vehicles and buses. The Operations introduction was amended to state that when transportation is provided, students shall be, rather than should be, transported by a school bus. Best practices recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of the Transportation Security Administration were adopted as a new appendix, supplementing the “Security and Emergency Preparedness” section. A new section, “Chronicling Innovations in School Transportation,” was adopted. Unlike action taken in previous congresses, there were no resolutions.
For the 2015 Congress, the Congress was relocated from Warrensburg, Missouri to Des Moines, Iowa. The steering committee recognized an opportunity to celebrate the achievement of over 75 years of existence, and an awards banquet was added to celebrate significant contributions to the success of NCST. The University of Central Missouri (UCM) and the Missouri Safety Center were recognized for 34 years of partnership to host NCST. Other significant contributions were also recognized. Due to changes in economic conditions, and other factors, the partnership with UCM was unable to continue. New ways of facilitating NCST were identified by the steering committee. This resulted in National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) accepting responsibility for the NCST website as well as managing the budget and funding. The changes also shifted the responsibility for congress document preparation as well as the editing and publishing of the final document to the steering committee. New processes were put in place including professional formatting services to bring more uniformity to the document. In addition, a new product was created to show the changes that were made by the congress in color edit format. This was welcomed by states and others who like to keep up on changes made during congress every five years. Changes made during the congress included: Interim Inquires and Amendments Requests processes to keep the steering committee and other committees in place with vacancies filled as needed so committees are able to respond during the interim. Significant changes were made to the School Bus Inspection section, as well as to the Operations section. Under Security and Emergency Preparedness, the Transportation Security Administration provided the congress with updates.