VERNON -- Selectboard members have reversed course on a new town-bus rule.
Amid legal concerns and privacy issues, the board this week rescinded a provision giving the driver authority to keep residents with severe health issues off the bus.
But officials say they still will ask riders to voluntarily take precautions including providing an emergency contact number in case problems arise.
"I just want people to be safe on the bus," longtime driver Eleanor Allen said. "That’s the whole thing."
Vernon’s 16-passenger van runs periodically for scheduled events such as social gatherings, dinners and shopping trips. Anyone can ride, but the service primarily is used by senior citizens.
That has led to situations where Allen has had to deal with a passenger’s health-related incident while driving. As she noted on Monday, "driving the bus is not just about driving the bus."
In an attempt to offer assistance, Selectboard members in June voted to allow the driver to use her discretion "in allowing or refusing persons with compromised health issues to ride the bus."
The board also asked that riders fill out a card that could include emergency contact information and a list of medications.
On Monday, Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O’Donnell clarified that such cards never were intended to be a requirement for bus riders.
"We didn’t make it mandatory," O’Donnell said.
However, officials acknowledged that using health as a criteria for bus access could violate medical privacy laws. Officials said a representative from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns warned against trying to enforce that provision.
"As I understand, it’s not appropriate," Allen said prior to the board’s vote to repeal the measure.
Nonetheless, Allen said she still is pursuing several other initiatives to improve safety.
First, she is advising passengers to fill out a card containing medical information and keep it with them for use by emergency responders. The card would not be submitted to the bus driver.
"It’s not for me to keep," Allen said. "It’s for their individual safety."
But Allen is asking that riders give her emergency contact information including a local person who could respond if a passenger is hospitalized.
"It’s not mandatory, but it’s for their own safety," Allen said.
In her presentation to the Selectboard, Allen added that she is revising bus safety guidelines and changing the name of the service from "van" to "bus."
The guidelines may be discussed at the next Vernon Selectboard meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 6.
"What I would like you to do is look at them and give them to the attorney," Allen told the board.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.