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Federal Law Prevents TTA From Transporting Students

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A federal law passed last year means a group of Chapel Hill students can no longer use one Triangle transportation system to get to school.

A group of parents who have leased a Triangle Transit Authority van for the past 10 years were informed on Monday that they can no longer shuttle their children from Chapel Hill to Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh.

If the TTA uses commuter vans to shuttle children to school, it is in violation of a November 2005 federal law designed to protect private commercial transit services from unfair competition from government-backed systems.

"I'm not sure why they came up with this rule," said parent Dave Pennington. "It doesn't make any sense to me. It sounds like someone just trying to make money off our situation."

The TTA, however, said, there does not have to be a competitor; it just has to comply with the law.

"If we try to do this in violation of these regulations, the feds would pull away the money for the van pooling operation," said TTA legal counsel Wib Gulley. "It doesn't mean just these vans, it could mean others using it to get to work -- it could negatively influenced.

Complying with federal law, however, would mean more parents traveling on Triangle roadways, which is exactly the opposite of what the TTA is purposed to do.

"We're talking about 51 kids and all these vans that are going to be dumped now on the roads -- and cars -- to get them to school," Pennington said.

Parents, however, will be allowed to use the vans for the next 30 days while they make alternative arrangements to get their children to schools.