The "Tripper Rule" refers to FTA Regulations (49 CFR Part 605) that serve to protect private school bus operators from competition and to ensure that transit agencies receiving FTA funding are serving the needs of the general public. It essentially bars transit agencies from providing service exclusively for the transportation of public school students in Kindergarten through Grade 12. It allows service for students only as part of the bus system available to the general public. While many urban school districts rely heavily on public transit to transportation their student populations, those agencies are generally in urban areas where transit agencies already provide a high level-of-service and already run bus routes near schools.
The Tripper Rule applies to both home-to-school student transportation and to transportation for school-sponsored activities (like field trips and sports games).
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973 required the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA, now FTA) to provide financial assistance to a grantee only if the grantee agreed "not to provide school bus transportation that exclusively transports students and school personnel in competition with a private school bus operator." UMTA codified these regulations in 1976 under 49 CFR part 605, which exempted "Tripper Service" from the prohibition on transit agencies providing school transportation. The FTA clarified the definitions in these regulations in a 2008 policy statement.
Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority v. Hynes-Cherin (2008)
In 2008, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York decided that the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority could restructure its bus route network to include new express school routes proposed to serve the Rochester City School District. The court interpreted that hypothetically a member of the general public could board one of these buses, and that therefore it was not an "exclusive" school bus operation. FTA maintains, however, "that such an interpretation would contradict FTA's final policy as set forth [in 49 CFR Part 605]." FTA will continue to maintain its "reasonable person" definition.
Implications for Transit Agencies
Agencies that receive any FTA funding are required to comply with the Tripper Rule. Below is a list of permissible and impermissible activities for transit agencies seeking to provide transportation for their youth population.
What transit agencies are permitted to do:
- Provide transportation for public K-12 students as part of their service available to the general public.
- Operate tripper buses along school routes, provided that the additional buses are available to the general public.
- Modify frequency of service with school student considerations.
- Stop a bus in front of a school, provided that the stop is properly signed as any other stop would be.
- Operate an incidental charter bus for school-sponsored activity transportation.
- Modify fare collection and/or provide subsidies to students.
- Use "de minimus" route alterations in the immediate vicinity of schools.
- Provide paratransit services to school students, provided that the students are eligible for the services as members of the general public.
What transit agencies are NOT permitted to do:
- Provide transportation exclusively for public K-12 school students.
- The FTA describes this as "service that a reasonable person would conclude was primarily designed to accommodate students and school personnel and only incidentally to serve the non-student general public."
- Name the bus route and/or display signage bearing the name of a K-12 public school, unless the school is the normal destination of a regular publicly-available transit route.
- Advertise a bus as a "School Special."
- Place a bus stop on school property.
Los Angeles Metro
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority uses the following descriptions to establish when they operate school tripper service and what requirements it must meet:
Criteria for Operation:
- Sufficient demand
- Sufficient resources available
- Will not result in a significant increase in travel time for regular customers
- Operated as part of the regularly scheduled public transportation service
- Comply with established policies and procedures
- Published on public timetables
- All locations where trippers board or alight passengers, including the bus stops at deviated routes, must be marked with Metro signage including the bus line numbers servicing the stop
- Changes must be provided to the general public by a service change notice or on the Metro website
LA Metro states that "requests for new school trippers or modifications to existing school trippers will be considered when a minimum notice is given at least two weeks prior giving ample time to complete an appropriate analysis of the request and to allow appropriate notification of changes."
Vincent, Jeffrey M., Carrie Makarewicz, Ruth Miller, Julia Ehrman and Deborah L. McKoy. 2014. Beyond the Yellow Bus: Promising Practices for Maximizing Access to Opportunity Through Innovations in Student Transportation. Berkeley, CA: Center for Cities + Schools, University of California.
- Federal Register. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2008-09-16/pdf/E8-21601.pdf
- Final Policy Statement on FTA's School Bus Operations Regulations (2008). https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2008/09/16/E8-21601/final-policy-statement-on-ftas-school-bus-operations-regulations
- LA Metro School Trippers Policy (2019).https://www.metro.net/about/metro-service-changes/school-trippers/