Despite COVID-19 limiting the number of school bus passengers due to social distancing guidelines, one Maryland lawmaker hopes to never see standing students in overcrowded school buses again.
Delegate Dana Jones — with co-sponsors, Delegates Heather Bagnall, Sandy Bartlett, Jessica Feldmark and Shaneka Henson — introduced Maryland House Bill 87, which requires that a school bus be routed with the intent that the number of passengers on the bus does not exceed the manufacturer’s rated seating capacity. The bill also states that if an emergency or temporary situation causes the number of passengers to exceed seating capacity, then the situation will be corrected within a “reasonable period of time.”
The bill was first introduced in the 2020 legislative session, following a news report the year prior on Anne Arundel County Public Schools buses that were so overcrowded, students had to stand while being transported to and from school.
Transportation Supervisor Les Douglas at Anne Arundel County Public Schools told School Transportation News that standing students are not acceptable, but unfortunately there are circumstances when it occurs.
He noted that in addition to the start of the school year, in between fall and winter sports and winter and spring sports, bus capacity fluctuates. Thus, the capacity of the school bus might be more crowded than normal. Douglas said when the district is aware of these overcrowded circumstances, they correct it as soon as possible.
However, he said because the district won’t leave a student behind at a bus stop, sometimes overloading the bus is the only way to transport students to school. He added that Anne Arundel, to his knowledge, has never operated a school bus with more students than outlined by the manufacturer’s seating capacity.
Gabriel Rose, the director of transportation at the Maryland State Department of Education, added as with school systems everywhere, the start of each school year brings issues with loads of students. “Our directors continue to revise bus routes throughout the year to avoid overcrowding the bus, but issues still arise on a day-to-day basis,” Rose told School Transportation News.
The bill however does state that school bus drivers can permit one standing passenger for every part of the aisle that is bounded on both sides by forward-facing seats.
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HB 87 passed the Maryland House of Delegates on Feb. 11 with a 133 to 2 vote and is now in the Senate. “Thrilled to report that today the house voted to pass my bill, HB 87, which would improve school bus safety by helping to ensure every student has a seat on their way to and from school,” Jones said via a Facebook post. “Thank you to those who came to testify in favor of this common-sense bill, now on to the Senate!”
HB 87 was crossed filed with SB 253. While HB 87 passed the house, SB 253 was unfavorable in the Senate.
If passed, it will take effect on July 1.