Schools, like many organizations, were not established to be providers of transportation, but, nevertheless, they are in the position where they must provide some transportation for their students to meet their primary objectives. The fact is, this is the case with most bus operators, including hotels, car rental companies, nursing homes, hospitals, and churches, to name a few. None of these organizations are in the transportation business, but they find themselves in the position of providing transportation as part of running their primary business.
Because you are not in the transportation business, you may lack the personnel with the expertise to purchase a bus with confidence. With that in mind, you may benefit from knowing a few basic bits of information as you endeavor to purchase a bus for your school.
First, let's define some terms that you should know
NHTSA--National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
This division of the federal department of transportation regulates and sets standards that must be met by manufacturers of various types of passenger vehicles. (Go to www.nhtsa.gov for more information.)
FMVSS--Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
This refers to specific standards that a certain class of vehicle must meet to be compliant with NTHSA regulations. For instance, FMVSS 220 refers to school bus '"roll over."
MFSAB--Multi-Function School Activity Bus
An MFSAB is essentially a school bus without the stop arm and flashing lights that are necessary for stopping in the street to board passengers and is deemed suitable for student transportation by NHTSA. The MFSAB is designed to provide schools with activity buses that meet all of NHTSA's criteria for student transportation.
This is any vehicle that has not been certified by the manufacturer to meet all of the FMVSS that NHTSA requires for a school bus, or MFSAB. This includes commercial buses and vans commonly used by churches.
With these facts established, let's address a few basic questions.
Can a school that is associated with a church transport its students in the church's bus?
Yes, but only if the bus used is a certified school or MFSAB. NHTSA does not regulate the transportation of passengers based upon their ages, but, rather, regulates the type of operation that the bus is used for. NHTSA regulates buses used for pre-primary, primary, and secondary school transportation differently than it regulates buses used to transport children in a Sunday school program.
Are the vehicles used by daycare centers subject to NHTSA regulations?
A vehicle that transports the children of a daycare center (assuming that it does not have an educational curriculum) does not have to be a certified school bus or MFSAB, unless that vehicle transports the children to or from school. If a daycare center transports children to and from school, NHTSA regulations require that the transportation be provided in a certified school bus or MFSAB.
Why don't churches just make it simple and buy school buses for all of their activities?
One reason is the way that commercial and school buses are designed. No one would argue that the typical eight-year-old passenger is as discriminating about his mode of transportation as a 58-year-old passenger. Commercial buses are designed and finished out with adults in mind - passengers who demand more comfortable seats and amenities. School buses are built for safety and utility more than comfort. When school districts write their specifications for a fleet of buses, they are looking for the best way to move large numbers of kids to and from school safely and cost effectively. When a church sets out to purchase a bus for the activities of their senior adults, they typically have other considerations in mind.
Can school buses and MFSABs be equipped to be just like commercial buses?
School bus and MFSAB manufacturers are becoming more responsive to the demands of customers who want more amenities and comfort than what was expected from school buses of the past. For instance, today you can purchase very comfortable high back seats that would suit most adults, and some amenities common to commercial buses are available as well. So, don't be left with the impression that school buses have to be uncomfortable for adults.
Are NHTSA regulations all that a purchaser has to be concerned with?
In addition to federal guidelines, states also regulate student transportation. However, the focus of states is typically the transportation of public school students. It is worth contacting the appropriate agency within your state to see if there are regulations that need to be met for private schools.
Do school buses have to be yellow?
NHSTA recommends that school buses be painted yellow, but does not require it. However, it is a common requirement of states that regulate the transportation of public school students. If your route does not stop traffic on fixed routes, then you do not need to have a yellow bus with stopping flash arms.
Are school buses high-maintenance vehicles?
A bus needs to be maintained just like any other vehicle. In fact, smaller MFSABs are essentially van chassis with school bus bodies. So, if you follow the chassis manufacturer's maintenance schedule, and then service the air conditioning system for the passenger compartment according to its maintenance schedule, you should be set. Keep in mind that proper maintenance is essential to success for any bus operation.
How do I find a bus that suits our school's needs?
Start by finding a bus dealer who is familiar with the regulations noted above,offers the types of products that you wish to purchase, and is equipped to support the products they sell. As you make progress towards making your purchase, it is important not to put the price of the bus ahead of all other considerations. Price is only one factor in determining cost. It may be that you can purchase a bus for less from a Web site that treats buses as if they were a mail order item, but that doesn't make it the best deal.