It is rewarding when your legacy is honored years after instituting a change. Though he left the Atlanta Public Schools some time ago, Harold Walker launched its emission-reduction program 10 years ago, and recently the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has recognized the district for its continued commitment.
At the Georgia Association for Pupil Transportation’s (GAPT) 50th Annual Conference & Trade Show in July, the state EPD presented 36 school systems with the Georgia Diesel Emissions Reduction (GaDER) Awards. Atlanta Public Schools won the Blue Sky Award, the highest achievement, for reducing emissions by 75 percent or more of their school bus fleet.
Walker’s current district, Clayton County Public Schools, received the Gold Award for decreasing emissions in 26 to 74 percent of their fleet through early replacement of buses, installation of emissions control equipment and/or the use of alternative fuels.
“Older diesel buses emit a high amount of particles in the exhaust,” William Cook, EPD environmental engineer and manager of the GaDER Program (pictured above with Walker, middle). “New buses and those that have been retrofitted with diesel particulate filters reduce these particulates by more than 85 percent, which results in a significant improvement in the air quality inside and around the school bus.”
Cook added that transportation directors and their staff who receive a GaDER award should be celebrated for their hard work and dedication to ensure that children are riding in the safest and cleanest buses available.
Walker said he has been working on emissions reduction for 10-plus years, first as the transportation director in Atlanta, where he obtained grants, retrofitted buses with diesel particulate filters (DPFs) and purchased cleaner-running buses, before moving to the Clayton County district, which has a similar-sized fleet.
“We’ve seen many benefits: You’ve got cleaner air for the school bus drivers and students, you get less illness for people who have asthma and the drivers are happier,” he noted. “Add to that your no-idling policy, and that also helps keep the air clean. I’ve had no-idling policy and procedures in place since 2007, in both counties.”
He recommends that other transportation directors reach out to their state’s environmental department to find out emissions-reduction grant money and apply for it, and also suggests implementing an anti-idling policy to improve everyone’s health as well as the environment.
And a little recognition feels good, too.
“I am still retrofitting and buying new buses at the same time and I’m continuing that cycle. It feels great that we can contribute to the success of cleaning the air up and helping people’s health,” Walker continued.
When the GPD recognized the Barrow County Schools with a Gold Award, Transportation Director Wanda Young made sure her entire team felt honored.
“It was wonderful. We had our entire staff in the building come out for a photo op, because it wasn’t just a single-person operation — it took all of us to make that happen. It was really nice to have the staff recognized as well,” said Young, who was quick to credit the previous transportation director for initiating the clean-fleet program in spring 2010.
Young came on board in July 2013, and with the help of her employees, completed the program a month later. She had DPFs placed on the majority of the, and since then, has purchased only new buses that run cleaner, with fewer emissions.
She operates 169 buses and employs roughly 185 drivers including subs and aides, transporting thousands of students daily. The fleet is mixed with mainly Type D conventional buses, she explained, and some older transit buses.
“Now 100 percent of the fleet is cleaner, four years later. Bus drivers have noticed a difference in the fumes — you can notice a difference just following the bus lineup as they’re exiting schools in the afternoon. You can tell the difference and I know it’s making a difference for our students,” Young shared.
Like Walker, she instituted an anti-idling policy several years ago because of the statewide mandate limiting idling to five minutes. The only exception is for those drivers who transport students who have special needs, including wheelchair passengers.
“They actually have it in their Individualized Education Program that the bus has to be on with the A/C or the heat going, so you would not be able to turn the bus off based on this criteria. That would overrule that anti-idling policy. So, on those buses you cannot do that in your fleet due to the extreme conditions of the students, and the weather in the South,” she added. “The best answer is always put the students’ safety first.”