(WASHINGTON) – On July 25, Teamsters Local 384 Secretary-Treasurer Matt Condron testified at the U.S. House of Representatives. Condron was part of a panel of experts and stakeholders at the hearing in the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, “Examining the Federal Role in Improving School Bus Safety.”
“The Teamsters are leading the way on school bus safety-related issues for our membership, and for our school bus drivers, monitors and mechanics all across the country,” Condron said. “The human element with this issue is paramount. What the drivers, monitors and mechanics are dealing with across the country on a daily basis needs to be said.”
The hearing was held to evaluate current school bus safety measures and determine whether more federal safety requirements are warranted. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D – DC), Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, solicited input from the panel regarding actions lawmakers could take to improve student transportation.
“It is true that school buses have a relatively safe record,” said Norton. “It is also true that children are injured every year in bus-related crashes. More than I believe in most accidents, we owe it to our children, to these students, to examine why these fatalities occur and what can be done to prevent them.”
Condron emphasized to the members of congress that the federal government should play a larger role in regulating school bus safety, noting that there are little to no federal regulations for pupil transport.
“Federal laws and regulations do almost nothing to help school bus drivers,” Condron said. “Once a school bus comes off the manufacturing line, there are no federal rules requiring that it be kept in safe working condition. Many people are shocked to learn that the U.S. government plays almost no role for in setting minimum standards for school bus operations in our country.”
A critical role for federal oversight that Condron identified at the hearing was the procurement process. Roughly one third of municipalities hire private companies for student transportation and many are required by law to hire the least expensive bid on a contract. This creates a perverse incentive for bad actors in the industry whereby they can cut back safety standards to reduce overhead, thus lowering their bid and increasing their odds of winning a contract as a result.
“Private companies whose business is to make money or smaller school districts strapped for cash are often left to decide whether or not investing in safe drivers and new buses is a smart financial decision instead of whether or not it’s the right one,” said Condron. “This should never be just a dollars or cents calculation, it should be based on what it safest for our children each and every time. In my view, many of these problems come down to a lack of rules governing school bus operation across the country.”