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August 01, 2004  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Steep fuel prices put pupil transporters on guard


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School bus operators across the country are faced with the challenge of finding strategies to soften the problem of elevated fuel costs for the upcoming school year.

The steady increase in diesel prices has caused many contractors and school districts to adjust their budgets to fit fueling needs, but for many, rolling with the punches seems to be the only option.

According to the Energy Information Administration’s official Website, www.eia.doe.gov, prices for gasoline and diesel fuels have increased over the past year in every region of the United States. The East Coast was hit with an increase of 26 cents per gallon of diesel fuel, and the West Coast saw cost per gallon rise by 43 cents. The high prices have had an unnerving effect on pupil transporters.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times reported struggles California operations have encountered because of the fuel price hikes. Districts have been forced to decide between cutting services or shifting costs to parents. Los Angeles Unified is among those faced with major budget deficits and forced to cut costs wherever possible next year. The district has deferred routine maintenance work and the purchasing of supplies because of its $500,000 deficit. “It wasn’t something we saw coming,” Transportation Director Anthony Rodriguez told the Times.

Smaller districts are facing major hardships as well. "We have about 400 students K-12, and we must be creative in cutting costs any chance we get," said Sue Plane, transportation director for Sargent School District in Monte Vista, Colo. The district began cutting athletic and field trips to help lessen the financial burden.

As for the future, Plane said the district will “continue to cut back on trips when we can and still provide a good education and safe transportation for our children.”

School bus contractors, like school districts, have also adjusted their operations to accommodate increased prices. “There’s not much we can do but absorb the extra costs,” said Tim Gunn, GM for Durham Transportation in Oakland, Calif. Some contractors have national accounts with fuel-managing companies and were able to bypass major price spikes, but most were unable to avoid the difficulties. “Our operating margin has decreased significantly,” said Gunn.

Outside of allocating more money to fuel expenses, districts and contractors are planning to be as conservative as possible with expenditures. Many pupil transporters will scrutinize every aspect of their operations to ensure that the most cost-effective methods are used and students are still kept safe.

— TERESA BASICH


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