This category covers establishments engaged primarily in operating buses to transport pupils to and from school. School bus establishments operated by educational institutions are considered auxiliaries. This category does not include companies offering only bus manufacturing or maintenance.
485410 (School and Employee Bus Industry)
There were 4,287 establishments in this industry in 2001, employing 168,940 total workers with a payroll of $2.47 billion. About 43 percent were small organizations with fewer than 10 employees. In 2000, there were 1,960
school bus drivers earning a median hourly wage of $8.82. As of 1999, nearly half of the nation's children—24 million—rode buses to and from school. Sixty percent of all school buses were owned and operated by individual school districts, many maintaining as few as one or two buses; the remaining 40 percent of vehicles belonged to private companies that contracted their services with school districts.
Largely unregulated until the latter part of the twentieth century, the school bus industry began with the manufacture of vehicles owned by individual schools and districts and developed concurrently with the automobile industry. In the late 1960s, bus companies were exposed, peripherally, to the struggle for racial integration of American schools and, more directly in the early 1970s, to the automobile safety movement led by activist Ralph Nader. In the 1990s, bus companies continued to be subject to national and state safety legislation; during this time, a debate over the need for school bus seat belts was tabled, as advocates on either side of the issue failed to turn up conclusive information.
Safety issues have largely impelled innovations in the school bus industry. In August 1998, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced an extensive two-year research program to consider alternative methods for potentially improving federal school bus passenger crash protection requirements. Nevertheless, fatalities in school bus-related accidents continued to decline, with a 19 percent reduction in deaths from 1980 to 1990. In the 1990s, there was an average of 32 school-age children fatalities each year.
Since many fatalities occurred when buses hit riders passing through the bus driver's blind spot, some buses were being equipped with automatic "crossing gates" that swung out when the bus stopped, forcing children to walk 10 feet in front of the bus when crossing the street. To handle on-board safety issues, some school districts were equipping school buses with on-board video cameras as a deterrent to unruly or dangerous behavior among riders.
In 2003, the NHTSA introduced standards for a new, safer category of school bus as an alternative to the accident-prone 15-passenger van. The new category, called the "multifunction school activity bus," would not transport children between school and home, but would be used for school activities and the like.
In the 2000s, along with concern about diesel emissions in other vehicles, there was great outcry over diesel emissions from school buses and their effect on children, prompting the Clean School Bus USA Program. In response, buses were being retrofitted to reduce emissions, or were replaced. In October of 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave a $500,000 grant to the National School Transportation Association to help subsidize the cost for some companies to comply. Later that same month, a $5 million dollar grant was given to 17 school districts for compliance. As of 2004, the proposed federal budget included a $60 million increase to the program for 2005.
Despite all the concerns regarding school bus safety, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services pointed out in 2003 that children were far more likely to be injured when they did not ride school buses than when they did.
In a more controversial development, some school districts were choosing to raise money by allowing advertisements to be painted on the sides of their school buses. New York City hoped to bring in $53 million over nine years from contracts signed with commercial advertisers in 1996.
Because most school bus providers were school districts, management often was handled from within the district. Although there were jobs in management and maintenance, drivers were by far the largest employee category. In general, drivers worked an average of 20 hours or less per week during the school year. School bus drivers were required to get a commercial driver's license from their state of residence, and in some cases were subject to a background investigation for criminal misconduct or a history of mental illness. Drivers generally received 1-4 weeks of driving instruction in addition to classroom training on state and local laws, safe driving practices, and first aid and emergency evacuation procedures. Aside from driving, they were responsible for checking their vehicles for safety and reliable operation, as well as issuing reports on fuel consumption, number of students and trips, and hours worked.
The industry leader in 2001 was Atlantic Express Transportation Group Inc. of Staten Island, New York. The company posted sales of $353 million and had 7,500 employees. The following year, sales had jumped to $427 million, and there were 8,500 employees. In 2004 the company had 6,500 buses in its fleet. In second place was Laidlaw Transit Services Inc. of Shawnee Mission, Kansas, with 2001 sales of $212 million and 9,000 employees.
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