The Chinese government and local enterprise continue to ramp up efforts to increase student transportation safety after several high-profile crashes shocked the global community, and increasingly they are looking West for insights on how to accomplish these goals as several U.S. student transporters presented to Chinese and other foreign bus representatives last week.
International outrage centered on a head-on crash last November involving a school van packed with 62 students, ages 5 and 6, and a truck. Twenty-one of the students, their driver and an adult chaperone were killed while 41 students were seriously injured. This tragedy came after China began implementing new regulations in 2010 to mandate seat belts and black boxes in school buses that are now painted yellow like their American cousin. However, Chinese school buses are actually motorcoaches and not constructed to U.S. federal standards.
Busworld Asia in Guangzhou, China, about two hours by train from Hong Kong, was the site of the latest industry event that looked at the benefits of the American yellow school bus. It ran from Nov. 22-24. Earlier this year, Blue Bird and IC Bus exhibited their American school bus brands at Chinese industry trade shows.
The Busworld Asia event began in partnership with Chinese bus builders in 2001. An event spokeswoman said the Asian Coach Week Awards were presented for the first time this year to Chinese school bus manufacturers. Some members of the American contingent were invited to watch the judging.
During the conference portion, NAPT President Alexandra Robinson, the executive director of student transportation for the New York City Department of Education, provided a regulatory overview of the U.S. school bus industry. She will also talked about NAPT and its member iniatives. NAPT’s Executive Director Michael Martin said Robinson has made it a priority as president to continue what she calls “global outreach.”
“(Robinson) views the opportunities that we’ve had in China, in particular, and in Dubai, Saudia Arabia, and other parts of the world as part of our core mission to continue informing the rest of the world of the value we place on the yellow bus in North America,” he added.
Robinson specifically spoke about the safety features of the American yellow school bus, which are highly regulated by the federal or individual state governments, including stop-arm signs, reinforced side skirts, cross-view mirrors, trained drivers, and roof crush standards. She also discussed the fuel efficiency for parents that are afforded by school buses, and how buses can reduce traffic congestion and emissions from cars line up near schools as well as how school buses increase access to learning for students, especially those in rural areas who may otherwise have no other way to get to school.
Also speaking were Peter Lawrence, director of transportation at Fairport Central School District in upstate New York; Pete Meslin, director of transportation at Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Southern California; and Dick Fisher, a retired school district director of transportation and an industry trainer and consultant.
Lawrence presented on driver training and safety, specifically best practices for school bus driver training and new driver qualifications.
"This a wonderful opportunity for the United States bus industry to share our experiences with colleagues from Asia," added Lawrence. "We will have the opportunity to discuss strategies to help improve the school bus system in China and other parts of the world. I am very excited to be a part of this delegation that will represent the United States and to bring back some of the best practices we observe on this trip."
Meanwhile, Meslin presented “Transportation Information Management: The U.S. Example." He will discuss how stateside transporters are or should be utilizing key performance indicators and metrics to increase efficiencies and to decrease costs. He specifically discussed sources of data and cautioned on its use and trends in emerging technologies.
"Hopefully, this visit can help to build and strengthen our cooperative relationship," said Meslin, adding that he was looking forward to learning from international colleagues.
Fischer added that the trip was eye-opening to see how a country with few if any federal regulations or industry-accepted standards transports students to and from school. Still, for only being manufactured a short time, he said the group found a few safety items on the buses that need to be addressed but added that he the new school buses were "95 percent good" for how they are currently being used.
"When you travel overseas to places like China, which is starting to transport students by yellow bus, it is like looking at how we started in 1827," he said. "We can still learn many things from them, and it's fun to share thoughts about how our system works. It's a win-win for both of us."