STATE HOUSE — The House of Representatives today approved legislation introduced by Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) allowing 10 passengers on public school vans.
The bill (2023-H 5009), supported by the Department of Education and the Rhode Island School Superintendents Association, would amend the definition of a “Pupil Transportation Vehicle” to a vehicle constructed to seat not more than 10 passengers including the operator, rather than the existing limit of eight passengers.
“Although this bill makes a very small change from eight to 10 passengers, it’s a small change with big ramifications,” said Representative McNamara, who chairs the House Committee on Education. “Several school districts utilize these vehicles, and this bill would allow districts to transport more students, reducing the number of van trips and saving the districts money. It would also help the environment by cutting down on pollution from fewer trips.”
There are currently more than 100 bus routes in the state that have between eight and 14 passengers in them. If these routes switched to a van, it could save districts money in their transportation costs. The legislation would also help to alleviate the school bus driver shortage, since the vans don’t require a commercial driver’s license to operate, making it easier to get drivers, according to the Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau.
Warwick Public Schools have experienced chronic transportation problems as its sole available transportation vendor, First Student, faces continuing staffing shortages preventing them from staffing adequate bus routes, a nationwide problem. During a Feb. 8 Warwick School Committee meeting, officials noted two new school vans added to the fleet added flexibility to the system, but were not a solution.
The measure now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation (2023-S 0701) has been introduced by Sen. Hanna M. Gallo (D-Dist. 27, Cranston, West Warwick).
This is a test