School Transportation Century
the 18th century is considered the period of school transportation
infancy and the 19th century is the period of the industry's
adolescence, the 20th century saw the evolution of a fully
developed, mature industry. The solidifying role of the various
disciplines such as construction standards, national minimum standards
guidelines, scheduling and routing, federal motor vehicle safety standards,
special needs transportation, railroad grade crossing safety, state
and federal government involvement, occupant protection and more, have
had a profound effect on the industry.
the last 100 years, the industry provided more than an estimated 500
billion student rides as the ranks of students being transported swelled
to nearly 55 percent of all K-12 students. As the century drew to a
close, the Yellow School Bus has replaced the Little Red Schoolhouse
as the symbol of K-12 public education in the United States. There
is scant indication that transportation by yellow school bus will diminish
during the 21st century.
article initially appeared in the November 1999 edition of School
Events that Shaped the Industry in the 20th Century
At the dawn of the century 17 states had operable pupil transportation
programs, starting with Massachusetts in 1869.
Navistar manufactures first school bus, the Model F, for Rivinia School
District in South Dakota; the company’s name in 1915 was International
All 48 states in the contiguous United States have enacted laws allowing
the use of public funds for transporting school children.
Albert L. Luce, Sr. builds first all-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.
Study by C.S. Noble, Jr. titled “Public School Bus Transportation in
Perley A. Thomas wins North Carolina bid for 500 motorized, wooden school
buses. Company transitions to school bus manufacturing from street
26, 1931: On this day, the Pleasant Hills
School Bus Tragedy in which five children froze to death, started
with the worst storm in 56 years in southeastern Colorado.
International Trucks offers a diesel option for school buses in every
vehicle weight classification.
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
The National Safety Council publishes a pamphlet titled “School Buses:
Their Safe Design and Operation.”
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 13th
National Conference on School Transportation is scheduled for May 2000.
Adoption of school bus yellow color for school buses.
1940s: World War II halts all school bus production and bus builders
turn to war material production.
Alabama School Transportation holds first state association conference.
By the end of the century more than 75 industry-related state associations
U.S. Office of Education publishes a bulletin titled “Training School
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.
Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference holds first formal
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.
Development of the National Safety Council school bus safety section.
School Bus Safety Week organized in California by Dick Fischer; became
a national program in 1970.
School Bus Manufacturers Institute (SBMI) organized.
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.
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 crashworthiness. Bus rolls 5 1/4 times demonstrating
weaknesses in joint strength, seat anchorages, and windows 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; in 1967,utilizing an
IBM 360, the company began to database state laws, regulations
and specifications for school buses. By the time the century ends,
computers had become indispensable to pupil transportation.
Bobit Publishing Co. launches School Bus Fleet magazine; begins era
of mass communication among school transporters.
The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 authorized
the U.S. Dept. of Transportation to issue minimum safety standards for
new motor vehicles, including school buses.
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.
National School Transportation Association organized to represent private
school bus contractors.
National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services
organized to represent interests of highest official in state governments
responsible for pupil transportation.
Ward Industries conducts a Rivet Survey to ascertain how many rivets
were used by school bus builders in school bus construction. Answer:
232 rivets to 4,000 rivets per bus. Ward published results.
Discovery of the paucity of rivets in some buses aids in the development
of the first joint strength standard for school buses.
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.
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 for school buses promulgated
in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
NSTA sponsors first National School Bus Roadeo; the event is renamed
the International School Bus Driver Safety Competition in mid 1990s.
By century end an estimated 200,000 school bus drivers participate annually
in state, local roadeos.
NHTSA begins rulemaking leading to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard
222: Occupant Seating Protection in School Buses.
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.
Congress orders eight specific minimum performance standards for school
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 organized to represent
the interests of school district and other publicly owned school bus
Education For All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 guarantees free appropriate
public education including special education and related services, to
all handicapped children.
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.
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.
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.
Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton takes active role in financial restructuring
of Ward Bus Co. following the school bus manufacturer’s slide into bankruptcy.
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.
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.
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.
New York became the first state to mandate two-point seat belts on large
school buses. Four states — California (’99), Florida (’99), Louisiana
(’99), and New Jersey (’92) — have since enacted seat belt laws for
school buses. None of these laws permit retrofitting existing
school buses with lap belts.
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.
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
Honig v. Doe, 484 U.S. 305. This U.S. Supreme Court case held
that dangerous students with disabilities are subject to IDEA procedural
Transportation Research Board publishes Special Report 222: Improving
School Bus Safety.
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.
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
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.
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 websites 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.
Simms v. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Contractor
Lyle Stephens challenged NHTSA’s standards for securing wheelchairs.
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.
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.
$28 million awarded two students injured in Flagstaff, Ariz. school
bus accident in largest school bus related civil judgement in history.
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. Value of these several transactions
exceeds $1.5 billion.
NHTSA publishes guidelines for safe transportation of Pre-K children.
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 website
on the Internet.
In the space of three months, Florida, Louisiana and California enact
mandatory seat belt laws for school buses.
All 50 states have operable pupil transportation programs.
... and more 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.
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.
are not presented in any order of importance. Each has left an indelible
mark on pupil transportation:
- The controversy
about whether or not to install seat belts in school buses.
- The development
of numerous safety devices for school buses, including stop signs
on the left side of bus, crossing gates, improved mirrors, video cameras,
automatic snow tire changers, two-way radios, cellular phones,
ABS brakes, 8-way warning lights, retroreflective materials
on school buses, etc.
program for professional certification and growth.
- The move toward
electronic diagnostics for school bus maintenance.
- The rapid application
of Internet technology as a means of information exchange among transporters.
- The non-conforming
- Increased litigation
surrounding public education, including school busing; extension
of sexual harassment prohibitions to the school bus.
- The school bus
- Criminal background
checks of school bus drivers.
- Emphasis on school
consolidation, particularly in rural areas, leading to unprecedented
demand for school transportation.
- The move toward
alternative fuels for school buses.
- Nationwide growth
of public and private sector state associations.
Transportation News, November 1999