School Finance and Organization Services
Nebraska Department of Education
301 Centennial Mall South
P. O. Box 94987
Lincoln, NE 68509-4987
Dear Dr. Pool:
This responds to your April 14, 1997, letter requesting an opinion concerning the use of "coach type commercial mass transit buses (Greyhound, etc.)." You state that Nebraska is considering amending its regulations to permit the use of these vehicles on activity trips of long distances.
You first ask "May a coach type mass transit bus be used by a school for trips outside of the regular school route use in light of the definition of school bus found at 49 U.S.C. 30124(a) and the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards?"
NHTSA's regulations apply to persons manufacturing and selling or leasing new school buses, and not to the schools or school districts operating the buses. Issues regarding the use of vehicles by school districts are governed by State or local law. As to whether a dealer or leasing company may lease a coach bus for extracurricular trips, the answer depends on whether the bus is new or used, and on the extent of use as a school vehicle.
Our statute at 49 U.S.C. 30112(a) requires any person selling or leasing a new vehicle to sell or lease a vehicle that meets all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards. Accordingly, persons selling or leasing a new "school bus" must sell or lease a vehicle that meets the safety standards applicable to school buses. Under 49 U.S.C. 30101, et seq., a "school bus" is any vehicle that is designed for carrying 11 or more persons and which is likely to be "used significantly" to transport students to or from school or related events. 49 U.S.C. 30125. A new coach bus that is likely to be used significantly to transport students is a "school bus."
If a new coach bus is sold or leased for use as a school bus (e.g., leased on a regular or long-term basis to a school), the vehicle is a "school bus" and must meet the school bus standards. New Greyhound-type buses as currently manufactured cannot be certified as doing so, and therefore, cannot be sold or leased as school buses. Conversely, if the new coach bus were leased only on a one-time or very occasional basis, such use would not constitute "significant use" as a school vehicle. In the latter situation, the vehicle would not be a "school bus" and thus may be leased to the school for the special event.
The requirement to sell or lease complying school buses applies only to new vehicles. If the school district wishes to buy or lease a used coach bus on a long-term basis, the seller or lessor is not required to sell or lease a school bus. However, NHTSA believes that school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation in this country, and therefore strongly recommends that all buses that are used to transport school children be certified as meeting the school bus safety standards.
Your second question asks "If a coach type bus may be used in the above case, would a school be required to contract or charter it, or may a school own such a vehicle for this purpose?"
As stated above, a dealer or leasing company may lease (charter) a new coach bus on a one-time or very occasional basis, or may sell or lease a used bus for long-term use. A new coach bus cannot be leased for significant use as a school bus or sold for pupil transportation purposes.
I hope this information is helpful. I have enclosed a question-and-answer sheet on "Frequently Asked Questions About Federal School Bus Safety Requirements." If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact Dorothy Nakama of my staff at this address or by telephone at (202) 366-2992.
Acting Chief Counsel