Industry Forms Council for Educational Outreach to Parents

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The same day a “Pediatrics” journal report was released with new data on specific school bus related injuries, the industry unveiled the new American School Bus Council, the school bus industry’s first collaborative public relations campaign, at the NAPT’s 32nd Annual Conference and Trade Show in Kansas City.

The three national school bus associations and the three largest school bus manufacturers announced a three-year, $1 million outreach campaign that hopes to educate the public and especially parents on school bus safety.

“We offer the safest ground transportation in the world, period,” Ken Hedgecock, vice president of sales, marketing and service at Thomas Built Buses and an ASBC member, told several hundred attendees following the Nov. 6 NAPT awards breakfast. “Very few people outside of our industry know about that. Now is a crucial time to tell that story to the world.”

Added Pete Japikse, the Council’s co-chair and Ohio’s state director, “This story sells itself. Our mistake is we haven’t tried.”

Japikse, the former NASDPTS president, joined fellow co-chair and South Carolina state director Donald Tudor in officially announcing a partnership between industry associations NAPT, NASDPTS, NSTA and school bus OEMs Blue Bird, IC Corp and Thomas Built Buses. In addition to Thomas’ Hedgecock, other ASBC board members include: Lenny Bernstein, NAPT’s president; Mike Martin, NAPT’s executive director; John Corr, president of NSTA; Robin Leeds, an industry consultant to NSTA; Derek Graham, the new NASDPTS president and state director for North Carolina; Michael Cancelliere, vice president and general manager of IC Corp’s Bus Vehicle Center; David Hillman, IC’s marketing director; and Jim Moberg, vice president of sales and marketing at Blue Bird.“The whole idea of this project was to get a better understanding of the people we wanted to educate,” Tudor said.

To accomplish that end, the council hosted two parent focus groups in October centering on public perceptions of the yellow school bus. They found parents, on one hand, appreciated school buses for their convenience in getting their children to school safely, but they also voiced concerns regarding onboard bullying and long bus rides. Many parents also thought only one company manufactured school buses.

Tudor added that many parents surveyed were “astounded” the federal government does not directly fund school bus operations nationwide, and many indicated they were prepared to write their congressional representatives to petition for more active federal involvement.

Perhaps most distressing was that, while parents generally trusted school bus transportation, many distrust their children’s bus drivers. Tudor said most were unaware of state school bus driver training requirements not to mention skills training, annual physicals and strict alcohol and drug screening.

The mission of the American School Bus Council is to pro-actively combat any ill-feelings toward or misunderstandings of the industry during the next few years with a cyclical plan of advocacy, action, awareness and education. Informational tool kits will be provided to school districts and school bus operators nationwide for sharing with local media and parents. The information will share with them the safety aspects of school buses and the advanced training and abilities required of school bus drivers.

Japikse added the Council differs from the pre-existing School Bus Information Council, which is more fact-based rather than publicity-driven. In addition to providing information to local levels for enhancing relationships with parents and interest groups, the ASBC is also in the process of identifying national organization partners such the American Academy of Pediatrics and even the National PTA, with the hope of helping these groups better understand school bus operations and, in turn, allying with them in to get the positive message out to parents.

More information is available at www.americanschoolbuscouncil.com.

Reprinted from the January 2007 issue of School Transportation News magazine. All rights reserved.