Summer has arrived, hooray! But so has summer school. I remember going to summer school back in my teenage years and thinking I’d rather be at the beach, but some students don’t have that luxury coming out of this health crisis. I have been hearing a lot lately about the loss of learning during the pandemic. Not surprisingly, summer school enrollment is up as a result and school buses are traveling extra miles to support demand.
Last month, during an interview on the School Transportation Nation Podcast, Anthony Shields, the assistant transportation director at Hays Consolidated Independent School District near Austin, Texas, confirmed that he is seeing a significant increase in summer school routes. Plus, buses are running at full capacity with 48 passengers. Shields also anticipates that school busing volume will return to normal for the 2021-2022 school year, with 140 routes in a three-tier system under a hybrid opening in early September.
“We need more school bus drivers and recruitment is [an] ongoing process,” he commented. Hays CISD offers an attendance bonus plus eight hours a day of pay and benefits. The search is also on to replace mechanics who are retiring.
“This school year, we’ll have a new technology implementation of a student tracking and RFID badge program for integrated use on the school bus, in the library, and cafeteria. Plus, a parent notification app to help provide more information to the community,” he added.
Big lessons learned from the pandemic that figure to remain in effect at Hays CISD are onboard cleaning protocols, use of hand sanitizer, and an innovative one-way directional path for drivers to travel inside the transportation center to pick-up keys and route binders. This new pathway has also significantly helped with department traffic flow during busy times, at which Shields called his facility “Grand Central Station.”
Related: (STN Podcast E68) Getting Up To Speed: Prepping School Bus Ops For the 2021-2022 School Year
Related: (STN Podcast E67) Can’t Go Back to the Old Ways: Post-COVID-19 Ops, Summer School & New ZEV Players
Related: Washington School Districts Cancel Summer Transportation Due to Heat Wave
Shields also shared that one other benefit of the pandemic was additional time to apply for numerous grants. Recently, Hays CISD was awarded the funds to acquire 10 new propane school buses plus fueling infrastructure. The district also looks to receive a significant reimbursement for cleaning and sanitizing products that were previously purchased.
Meanwhile, this summer our industry awaits news on the numerous proposed federal bills that could fund an unprecedented amount of alternative energy school buses. The Biden administration has proposed $20 billion for EV school buses in the infrastructure package, though at press time a bipartisan Senate plan reduced the amount to $15 billion. Also, the joint House and Senate “Clean Commute for Kids Act” seeks $25 billion over the next 10 years to replace older diesel buses with zero-emissions buses.
Many school districts and school bus contractors are not waiting to see what lawmakers will accomplish in Washington, D.C. These organizations are identifying creative funding models and grants to access this technology sooner rather than later.
Last month, I spoke with Tim Farquer, superintendent of Williamsfield Schools located near Peoria, Illinois, on the STN podcast about electric school buses and how vehicle-to-grid technology ties into school bus operations and EV adoption by districts. He shared that his district paid for this technology via the state’s Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund allocation.
“It’s going to take more funding to get additional EV school buses on the road. The cost is significantly higher, but the long-term benefits are worth it to replace my older diesel buses,” he explained.
Also, Logan Bus Company, the largest school bus operator in New York City with 2,500 buses, is converting five of its diesel school buses to operate on electricity this summer. “Repowering our existing vehicles by replacing the old diesel drivetrain with a new electric propulsion system can bring all the benefits of electric power, including reduced operating costs and zero emissions, for a fraction of the price of a new school bus. And it’s great for the kids, city, and the communities we serve in New York,” said Cory Muirhead, the contractor’s vice president.
As you enjoy the remainder of your summer and start preparing for fall, remember the lessons we have learned during the pandemic. Be sure to carry forward a mission of health and wellness. And get excited for what the new school year has in store for us all.
Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the July issue School Transportation News.