“Student safety is our highest priority,” said School District #7 Supt. Sean Gallagher of issues the district’s aging transportation fleet is facing.
The District currently owns 10 regular buses, one mini-bus, a Ford Expedition and multiple maintenance vehicles. Two buses are nearly 17 years old, and three are 13 years old.
“We aren’t buying buses as frequently as I’d like to see,” said Gallagher. “When the buses reach 13 and 17 years old I start to get concerned.”
The superintendent estimated that the entire fleet might cover 140,000 to 150,000 miles per year between all the vehicles, which can mean a lot of wear and tear on each bus. He also noted that bus manufacturer quality control seems to have significantly decreased with the last few buses purchased.
“The newest bus is limited to short routes only. They’re warrantied up to three years, so we aren’t worried about expense but reliability,” said Gallagher.
Their latest fleet bus was purchased recently and placed into service this fall.
With the last three buses, there has been a long break-in period, as mechanical bugs and new features are worked through.
“We’ve noticed that on newer buses with emissions technology, it reduces the mileage they get from fuel. We’ve also been noticing an increase in maintenance costs,” Gallagher stated.
To keep the student passengers safe, buses utilize a variety of communications tools, including VHF radios and cell phones. Recently, additional hand-held radios and base stations were added to locations throughout the district to aid communication.
All buses are equipped with drop-down chains, fog warning lights, top-mounted strobe lights and studded snow tires. Newer models also have higher seat backs.
The district also keeps a certified bus trainer on staff, to keep staff updated and train new bus drivers. The bus fleet is maintained by two local mechanics.