Kings Canyon USD was the first district in the nation to receive an eTrans all-electric school bus (at left) from Trans Tech Bus. The district hopes to acquire five more within the next year.
Kings Canyon Unified School District (USD) in Reedley, Calif., faces the unique challenge of transporting a population of students from the Central Valley floor to the Sierra Nevada Mountains each day — a change in elevation from 230 feet to 6,700 feet.
"A school day in transportation can begin in the mornings with dense fog in the valley and sunshine in the mountains and end with rain and winds in the valley and blizzard and snow conditions in the mountains," says Director of Transportation John Clements, who has been with the district for 37 years in various roles.
The district primarily serves students in rural areas, which makes school transportation even more essential.
"Due to our rural remoteness, we have no other transportation options to bring our students to school. Transit service is minimal or non-existent over much of our district," he says. "Only one in five families in our district even has a second car."
Introducing an electric bus
Kings Canyon USD was the first district in the nation to receive Trans Tech Bus' eTrans all-electric Type A school bus. It will replace the district's aging No. 9 bus, a gasoline-powered Thomas Built 1980 model Chevrolet. The No. 9 was the district's first wheelchair lift-equipped bus.
"[The No. 9] has several hundred thousand miles on it and is really too small and old for continued use in our fleet," Clements says.
According to Clements, the eTrans will complete two 20-mile round trips daily between two of the district's valley communities and "then provide door-to-door services within those communities to the schools of service" for special-needs students.
Kings Canyon is currently working on several clean air grant applications to obtain as many as five more eTrans buses in the next year.
"Several [of those buses will serve] as replacement buses and several as demonstration program buses to share with neighboring school districts to learn the advantages of electric school buses," Clements explains.
Director of Transportation John Clements (far right) and his staff rode the all-electric eTrans for the first time on the streets of Reedley, Calif., on Dec. 19.
The eTrans currently in the district's fleet has child integrated safety seats for preschoolers with special needs, as well as a Ricon wheelchair lift with Q-Straint securement devices.
"Receiving this eTrans school bus has been the most exciting professional adventure for me in some time," Clements says. "My great staff and district support have made it possible for me to have the fun and enjoyment I am experiencing as the eTrans is launched at Kings Canyon Unified."
Buses for special ed like any other bus
Since the mid-1980s, the district has worked with the local county Office of Education "to place special-needs students in their least restrictive environment that includes training to ride regular-education transportation," Clements explains.
"Even our special-needs routes transport regular-education students in remote areas to reach their school sites," he adds. "Our goal was to have these students not feel as if they were riding on a small special-education bus, but rather a school bus that looks like any other bus in our system."
The district currently uses its buses to transport three special-needs students to services outside the district. In the next few years, the district intends to increase its fleet size to assume more of the services that are contracted out.