Best Practices and Resources
A board of education is responsible for providing safe, economical, and efficient pupil transportation. Listed below are practices which the State Education Department recommends for more economical and efficient transportation. If your district has not already considered adopting these practices, it would be beneficial for you to do so. If necessary, a study should be conducted to determine whether such practices would help to reduce the cost of transportation in your district.
Multiple Tripping of Buses - School district officials should, to the extent possible, design routes and schedule buses so that each bus can make two or more morning trips and two or more afternoon trips. It may be necessary to stagger school opening and closing times to accomplish this. However, any inconvenience that may result would be more than offset by the savings generated through a reduction in number of buses.
Cooperative Transportation - School district officials are strongly encouraged to consider the various possibilities that may exist in their part of the State for sharing transportation. School officials should cooperate with neighboring districts, in sharing of buses, when a number of districts have pupils attending the same school.
Full Utilization of Buses - School officials should design routes and assign buses so that buses are efficiently utilized. Whenever possible, buses should be fully loaded.
Efficient Location of Bus Stops - Consideration should be given to the distance the buses must travel between stops. The primary concern when locating any stop must be the safety of the pupils. Secondarily, the efficiency of the route will depend, to some degree, on the frequency of the bus stops. Frequent stops add to the time required to complete a route, create more traffic hazards, and may result in a greater potential for bus fatalities.
Is It Time to Change Operating Procedures or to Rebid a Contract?
If your district owns its own buses, have any studies been conducted to determine whether contracting for transportation would be more efficient and cost-effective? Conversely, if your district contracts for service, have studies been conducted to consider the benefits of operating district-owned buses? After your district has extended a contract a number of times, is consideration given to rebidding the contract in order to promote competition.
Cooperative Bidding - School officials should, whenever possible, cooperate with other school districts when bidding transportation services. Generally, districts which have participated in such programs have experienced cost savings.
Multiple-Year Contracts - School district officials should consider awarding multiple-year contracts, since contractors who need to purchase buses and hire drivers to provide the service, would more likely submit a bid when afforded the security of a long-term arrangement. This would encourage competition and may result in lower bid prices.
Note: Where the contract covers a multi-year period (2-5 years) the voters must approve a separate proposition or a specific line item in the school budget. The budget must also include a footnote to the line item which indicates the total number of years and cost of the multi-year contract. The full term of a multi-year contract must be included in a single contract form. For example, where a contract covers a 5-year term, the ending date will be June 30 of the fifth school year.
Restrictive Bidding Clauses - Section 156.1(d) of Commissioner's Regulations contains the following language …"Bid specifications shall not include special requirements relating to buses, drivers, maintenance and service facilities, the exclusive use of buses, or any other matter which tends to restrict competitive bidding." Such special requirements may tend to restrict competitive bidding and result in a higher cost. A determination of whether a requirement is restrictive should be made by a school district's attorney.
Add/Delete Clauses - School district officials should include a clause in their contract specifications which authorizes the board of education to increase or decrease the level of service, generally on the basis of a "per-bus" or "per-pupil" price. Such a clause is a great value, especially when extending contracts, since it permits an increase or decrease in service without materially altering the terms of the agreement, and when used wisely, can result in a savings to a district.
Advertise Prior to June1/July 1 - School districts are required by Section 156.1(b) of Commissioner's Regulations to advertise their transportation contracts not later than June 1 for transportation of students without disabilities and July 1 for students with disabilities. By doing this, districts are promoting competitive bidding since more carriers may bid on a contract when they know they will have time to make the necessary arrangements. A district which waits until July or August to advertise makes it difficult for anyone, other than the incumbent contractor, to submit a bid. Consequently, the Department will not approve contracts advertised after June 1/July 1 unless there is a legitimate reason for having done so.
Adequate Time for Submission of Bids - General Municipal Law requires that at least five days elapse between the first day of advertising and the date for opening bids. However, it would be difficult for any contractor, other than the incumbent, to prepare and submit their bid, especially in a large school district, if such a short period of time was used. Generally, a carrier will need a number of weeks to prepare a bid. School officials should promote competitive bidding by giving all prospective bidders adequate time to prepare their bids.
Multiple Quotations - School district officials should, whenever possible, foster competition by obtaining a number of price quotations when, because of the anticipated cost of a contract, bidding is not required.
Contract Amendments - A board of education and a contractor shall not materially modify a transportation contract. However, Section 156.1(f) permits such modifications where necessary to comply with a law or regulation imposed after the execution of such contract or to enhance pupil safety or where the modification results in savings to the school district. Such modifications must be approved by the Commissioner and shall result in no additional cost to the State or to the school district.
Fuel Verification - School districts with contracts that require the district to furnish the contractor with fuel should ensure that there are adequate controls over fuel storage and usage. The amount furnished should be limited to the amount actually used. When, pursuant to a contract provision, the contractor is reimbursed for excess fuel costs, this also should be done only on the basis of verified usage.
Know What Others Are Paying - It is important that school officials know what other districts are paying for transportation. Also, if pupils of other districts are riding on your contracted buses, what are the other districts being charged? This information should help to determine whether your contract costs are reasonable.
Cooperative Maintenance - School officials should consider the possibilities of cooperating with neighboring districts in the maintenance and repair of their school buses. This would often be preferable to the reconstruction or repair of an existing maintenance facility, especially in a small school district.
State Contracts - State O.G.S. contracts should be used when purchasing supplies and materials for the operation and maintenance of a bus fleet.
Ratios of Mechanics to Buses - School officials should consider whether the number of school bus mechanics employed by their district is reasonable. Some of the factors which would influence the number of mechanics needed are: the number of the spare buses, the size of the facility, the amount of contracted repair work, age of the buses, route mileage, and the number of mechanics who also drive buses. What is the ratio of mechanics in your neighboring districts?
Spare Buses - A school district should operate a fleet of buses which is limited to a size which can effectively be used to provide safe, economical, and efficient transportation. In view of the cost to purchase and maintain a bus, the number of spare buses should be based on a district's actual needs. What is the ratio of spare buses in your neighboring districts?
Better use of school buses. Do you need a seat for every student?
Education Law section 3635-c prohibits standing passengers except during the first ten days of school and in an emergency. This should not be interpreted as having a seat for every student regardless of actual ridership. In fact, numerous Commissioner's decisions have emphasized the responsibility and authority of boards of education to provide not only a safe, but an efficient transportation system. School officials should design routes and assign buses so that buses are used safely and efficiently. Whenever possible, buses should be filled to capacity. We encourage school districts to gather information on the capacity use of their transportation fleets. School districts should instruct drivers to take an actual count of pupils riding the bus periodically on each route and should maintain records in case of an appeal.
Some districts have a policy of holding an available seat for every potential rider. This policy goes against cost-effectiveness and gives the appearance of the under use of school buses. The Department encourages school districts to have an available seat only for those students who are expected to ride the bus. They may wish to survey parents on their intentions but in no case can a parent's response be seen as waiving their right to transportation for their child. It is advisable to have an additional 10 percent of the seats available in case of unanticipated riders, in relation to the district’s own routing calculations based on the students transported (not the posted capacity). It is not prudent to have buses with 50 percent of the seats empty in order to accommodate every possible student. We encourage school districts to have a back up plan as part of their emergency management practices for pupil transportation in the event that a bus is filled beyond capacity.
See Commissioner's Decisions 14,444, 14,094, 13,355, 14,376, 14,015 and 13,680.