Letter to the Editor: Delaware school bus contractors face unfair competition from districts

Here is an interesting subject for discussion. It is an important subject in this day and age where government is bending over backward to help small business stay afloat and hire people to work. At least that is what all the politicians are saying anyway.

But what happens when a government agency competes with a small business? I am writing about school districts (government) competing directly with bus contractors in student transportation.

Private bus contractors are small businesses. They operate by making contracts with school districts to provide transportation for students to and from school, sporting events, and other special activities. The income for a bus contractor comes from the people they provide service to.

Small businesses have to cater to the government before they can operate. They have to purchase business licenses, vehicle registration fees ($900 a year per bus), DoT certifications, etc. Insurance is huge expense for these small business owner/operators.

Another great expense is hiring and qualifying professional drivers. It takes about three months to hire and qualify a bus driver and get them on the road. Bus contractors and other small businesses also generate a considerable amount of tax income for state and federal governments.

Now for the fun part. Government agencies (federal and state) do not have a service income source. Their sole income is taxes and fees. The source for this income is small business and their employees through taxes and fees.

How can a school district use tax dollars to purchase and operate school buses and vans in direct competition with bus contractors? How can a school district be allowed to take professional drivers away from contractors to operate these buses and vans? Isn’t this a direct competition by government with the contractors at an unfair advantage to the government?

Government has no direct expenses. They don’t pay registration and other government fees. They don’t have to purchase insurance (state agencies are insured by the state). No training required because they only hire already licensed drivers.

All contractor employees have to meet a very strict series of guidelines including background checks, drug tests, physical qualification, Commercial Driver License testing. School district drivers do not, for the most part, have to meet any of these mandatory requirements to qualify.

Now for van operators. School districts use tax income to purchase commercial size vans. They hire noncommercial drivers to operate these vans. The van operators do not require a commercial driver license to drive. Here they are circumventing the rules in my opinion. A van that hauls less than 15 people, including the driver is just that, a van.

Even if the capacity of the van is 15 or more people, the school districts ensure that they don’t carry that many passengers.

Also, in my opinion, if a vehicle operator is being paid to provide transportation to students who are not his children to and from school, he is a commercial driver. Look up qualifications for Uber and/or taxi drivers.

Do these students wear seat belts? Do these vans stop at rail road crossings? Do they have warning lights flashing when loading and unloading children?

This needs to be checked by the Department of Transportation and the Department of Education. Professional bus operators should be responsible for providing transportation to schools without unfair competition.

The schools would then be able to focus more on educating the students once they arrive at school safely. Everyone would benefit and private businesses would be able to remain in business and continue to pay their fair share of taxes.

Timmy Harmon
School bus driver

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