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Keeping Your Passengers Safe
By: N. Joe Snow

Pullquote: One solution is the government-sanctioned minibus known as the Multi-Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB). The MFSAB meets all of the same federal requirements as a school bus, but it is not required to be yellow and does not have traffic control devices.

The transportation needs of most churches can be a major investment. There are many options to consider, so it is wise to conduct extensive research before making any decisions.

Historically, 12 to 15 passenger vans were the vehicle of choice for many churches. But recently, safety issues have caused many insurance companies to disallow coverage for these vehicles. The federal government has issued several warnings over the past few years due to frequent van rollover fatalities and their lack of adequate passenger-side impact protection.

In August 2005, President Bush signed the "The Transportation Safety Act of the 21 st Century." The act covered many issues, not the least of which was to prohibit pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools from purchasing new or used passenger vans for the transportation of school-age children, which do not conform to the same federal child safety requirements as school buses.

Given that, you may want to consider other vehicle options for your congregation.

There are basically two types of minibuses that most closely resemble the passenger van, at least in terms of passenger capacity. But passenger capacity is where any resemblance ends. These two types are the commercial-type minibus and the school-type minibus.

The commercial-type minibus does not meet all of the federal child safety regulations for a school bus, but it may include some of the requirements. These buses are used for park and ride service, hospital transportation, tourism, cargo, and church transportation, to name a few of its uses. However, keep in mind that all commercial minibuses are not created equal. This is one option for churches.

The type "A" school bus can carry 14, 20, or up to 30 children passengers or up to 20 adult passengers. These buses meet all of the federal child safety regulations and are constructed utilizing a series of steel roof bows, which form a safety cage assembly for rollover protection. The outer and inner skins are riveted or screwed to this skeleton framework after sidewall and ceiling fiberglass insulation has been installed. Heavy gauge side longitudinal impact barriers are installed, which incorporate seat rail flanges. Side impact protection is further enhanced with the addition of longitudinally mounted heavy gauge corrugated rub rails secured to each side of the bus.

Other safety features include emergency exit windows, emergency exit rear door, and optional emergency exit roof hatch. In addition to seat belts, the seating is compartmentalized, meaning that seat backs are engineered to absorb energy further insuring passenger safety during an accident.

A study by the National Safety Council found that the risk of death to a passenger traveling in a school bus is 172 times less than that of a passenger traveling in an automobile. In fact, school buses are the one of the safest form of transportation, even safer than trains and commercial airlines.

On the other hand, most church members may not necessarily want to travel in a yellow school bus, with its bench seats that were designed for children.

One solution is the government-sanctioned minibus known as the Multi-Function School Activity Bus (MFSAB). The MFSAB meets all of the same federal requirements as a school bus, but it is not required to be yellow and does not have traffic control devices. They can be fitted with adult seating, overhead parcel racks, rear cargo nets, and DVD players, resulting in a safe, comfortable, all-purpose vehicle with easy ingress and egress that should meet most church transportation needs.

MFSAB prices range from about $34,000 for a base model to about $50,000, depending on the size and the desired options. This may seem a little extravagant; however, the MFSAB minibus can carry more passengers, historically have a longer life, and are less expensive to maintain than other similar vehicles. Consequently, the actual cost per passenger mile is considerably less than the passenger van. And, when you factor into the equation the safety advantage, the certified MFSAB is a good, all-around choice.

Joe Snow is minibus manager for Ron Carter Autoland , www.roncarter.com/commercial.asp









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