By. Ronna Sable Weber, Executive Director of the National School Transportation Association
Each day, over 26 million students ride over 480,000 yellow buses to and from school in pursuit of their education. Ensuring that those school buses are the most environmentally-friendly they can be is important to the school transportation industry, as well as to the children that ride those buses and their families.
School transportation is the safest mode of transportation available today. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the yellow school bus provides more than 9 billion student rides every year, with an average student occupant fatality rate of 4 students per year during school travel hours, and an injury rate of less than 0.04% annually. The average number of student fatalities among students who travel to school by any means other than a school bus is 629 annually. School buses are the safest form of transportation available today with children being 70 times safer on a school bus than in any other mode of travel to and from school.
School buses of yesterday are no more. Today’s buses are much cleaner and more fuel–efficient, ensuring a healthy and safe ride for all students. Recognizing the importance of cleaner fleets and the actions Association members are taking to demonstrate their commitment to the environment, the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), the association for school bus contractors, has created two programs to recognize the efforts of school transportation providers: Go Yellow, Go Green and Green Fleet.
Private school bus contractors represent slightly more than one-third of the nation’s school transportation fleet and provide safe, cost-effective, and efficient transportation management services under contract to school districts across the country. These contracts are individualized to the needs of the school district and can vary from full turn-key service to specialized routes or services.
The NSTA was established in 1964 to represent school bus companies engaged primarily in transporting students to and from school and school-related activities under contract to public school districts. NSTA members range from small family businesses serving one district to large corporations operating thousands of buses across many states, all committed to the safe, efficient, and economical transportation of America’s children.
NSTA created the Go Yellow, Go Green award in 2008 to recognize a leader in the school bus industry who had demonstrated initiative and commitment in pursuing positive responses to growing environmental concerns.
Go Yellow, Go Green is a national campaign that works to increase the use of eco-friendly school buses and decrease the harm caused to the environment by everyday transportation. By replacing an average 36 personal vehicles on each trip to and from school, one school bus can significantly reduce total carbon emissions and total fuel usage. In addition, NSTA’s Go Yellow, Go Green campaign encourages cleaner operation of school buses through idle-reduction, retrofits, and replacements. Each year, a single award is presented annually to the NSTA member company that, through corporate practice and industry leadership, best demonstrates the principles of NSTA’s Go Yellow, Go Green campaign. The 2016 winner will be announced at NSTA’s Annual Awards Banquet on July 19th in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“The Go Yellow, Go Green award allows the Association to recognize an unmatched commitment to a clean fleet and the most environmentally-friendly operations and practices. This is truly a high honor for a company and we are delighted to be able to provide this recognition for our worthy members,” offered NSTA Executive Director Ronna Weber.
Secondly, in 2010, NSTA developed the “NSTA Green Fleet Certification” program for NSTA members that wish to be recognized for their effort to reduce fleet emissions. The certification program encourages member fleets to strive to achieve a greener fleet and provides recognition for environmental stewardship in the management of their fleets. For 2016, the certification program was amended to reflect changing fleet profiles and to allow a mechanism to compare those fleets to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) particulate matter emission reduction standards, showing progress overall in the reduction of such emissions. The EPA has supported this program since its inception and has endorsed the 2016 Green School Bus Fleet Certification as well.
“NSTA’s Green Fleet Certification allows our member companies the opportunity to be recognized for the efforts they are making to reduce their fleet emissions. This effort is often expected by the public, but goes unnoticed and our award allows the company to receive recognition for giving the extra effort to ensure they are doing everything they can to keep children safe and to protect the environment,” noted NSTA’s Weber.
In addition to these programs, NSTA has maintained a strong presence on Capitol Hill since its inception. In recent years, NSTA has helped lead a coalition of entities that work together to achieve the same objective – increased funding for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) Program. Thanks to the efforts of this Coalition, Congress appropriated $49.2 million for this program in its first year, Fiscal Year 2008. In 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in hopes of reinvigorating the economy. EPA received $300 million in an appropriation under this legislation. Congress then appropriated $60 million in the Fiscal Year 2009 funding bill and another $60 million in Fiscal Year 2010 to this program. Because of budgetary pressure, funding declined to $20 million in Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014 but went back up to $30 million for Fiscal Year 2015. In total, that is almost $600 million in funding over eight years, which would not have been possible without the active support of NSTA’s broad coalition advocating for funding for this important program.
NSTA also works to ensure that contractors and school districts have an equal opportunity to apply for funding under this program. This equity ensures that all school children across the country have the same chance of having newer, cleaner buses through the assistance of the federal government. This has been achieved most effectively through rebates offered specifically for school bus purchases in 2013 and 2015. NSTA, as an eligible non-profit trade association focused on school transportation, has also applied for and administered grant funding on behalf of member contractors.
In addition, NSTA has been an active proponent of efforts to reduce pollution and increase energy efficiency for the past several years. In 2002, NSTA began a nationwide member campaign to reduce school bus idling and to implement clean diesel technologies. NSTA has promoted the Clean School Bus USA initiative in printed materials and in speeches and workshops, clearly demonstrating an ongoing commitment to reduce the effects of diesel exhaust from school buses.
In addition to the use of new technologies, NSTA has promoted operational changes that will reduce the effect of school bus exhaust on school children, such as more efficient dismissal patterns at schools and different queuing patterns for buses. NSTA has made resources available to members on school bus exhaust, offering suggestions to members and others for working with state legislatures, with school administrators, and with parents to increase the use of diesel emission controls and reduce exposure to harmful emissions. NSTA continues to provide policy assistance to both members and to local school districts in exhaust-reduction techniques.
NSTA has approached this issue from many fronts and will continue to lead the industry in recognizing efforts made by school transportation contractors to improve their fleets as they strive to provide the safest and cleanest transportation possible to school children across America every day. School bus contractors are proud of the work they do every day – ensuring children have access to education in the safest environment possible and are pleased to also ensure it is in the cleanest environment possible. The industry is committed to the safety it provides and takes that responsibility very seriously every day.
About the Author
Ronna Sable Weber was named Executive Director of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) in June 2012. Ms. Weber was most recently the U.S. Export Control Officer for Alstom Power Inc. where she worked to implement an effective export control program and educate employees on the export control laws of the United States. In addition, she managed the legal subsidiaries for two of the company’s U.S. divisions, maintaining corporate records and state qualifications for the numerous entities of the company.
Prior to joining Alstom in 2008, Ms. Weber served as a Senior Associate with Prime Policy Group, where she specialized in transportation policy. Ms. Weber worked with the NSTA for over 12 years, concentrating on legislative and regulatory affairs. During her tenure with Prime Policy, Ms. Weber also worked with other clients in a variety of areas to include travel and tourism, healthcare, and international affairs.
Ms. Weber received a master’s degree in lobbying from the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of South Carolina.
Photo courtesy of National School Transportation Association
2014 Go Yellow, Go Green award recipient The Trans Group. From left to right: John Korr (The Trans Group), Karl Simon (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), and Tim Flood (The Trans Group).