Last week TTD was proud to host our second School Bus Summit bringing together drivers, local union leaders and advocates and allies for a frank and productive discussion on the challenges facing this workforce. We covered a lot of ground—the need for more consistent driver training; challenges posed by overcrowded school buses and what do about it; the proper regulation of sleep apnea; and debunking myths and promises peddled by too many private contractors seeking to take over bus services from local school districts.
As you can imagine, we had a busy day. And to add context to our discussion, the administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Anne Ferro joined us, as did other DOT representatives who together offered their insight and expertise on this often overlooked sector of our transportation system. Anne Ferro in particular delivered an important message on the need to make school transportation services as safe and secure as possible.
But what struck me the most were the stories of school bus drivers from Colorado to Tennessee to our backyard here in Maryland. Whatever the issue was, it all came back to a genuine desire to do right by the children in their care.
Drivers want training and support to deal with bullying and other behavioral problems that can occur on a school bus. They told us of kids being packed into limited seats that may not be age or size appropriate and situations in which students are forced to stand in the aisle while no one seems to be able to regulate how many children can legally be on a bus. We need to fix that problem.
I have read countless reports and studies on the problems that can occur when school bus services are contracted out. But at the Summit, we had the chance to listen to participants talk about the tricks and scams some unscrupulous private companies use to win bids for cheaper service by slashing wages and destroying employee benefits, all under the guise of “savings.”
As we learned from drivers at the Summit, these contracting schemes can ultimately end up costing the school district more money. One private company in New York, using non-union workers, underbid to win a contract. After two years, consultants were paid to evaluate the decision, and the verdict was that it was more cost-effective and efficient to switch back to unionized drivers working for the district.
At the same time, school bus drivers continue to meet new requirements just to maintain their jobs. We heard from drivers who are required to undergo further medical review if they show risk factors associated with obstructive sleep apnea. In some cases, these drivers are forced off the job until their diagnosis is returned. No one wants to ensure the safe operation of school transportation services more than the very drivers operating the buses. But we must ensure that these drivers are treated fairly and that new requirements are not used to arbitrarily get rid of experienced drivers.
I want to thank everyone who joined us last week—especially those drivers that made us all smarter and more determined to address these challenges and do better to ensure the safety of our nation’s school children.