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February 11, 2014  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Rising costs, security and bus eligibility cuts are key issues

Having held a variety of leadership roles in the industry, Don Carnahan brings diverse insight to his second term as president of NAPT. Here, he shares his perspectives on changes and challenges in pupil transportation.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author


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  • At the 2013 NAPT Summit, Carnahan (right) presented the American School Bus Council’s School Bus Champions award to Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn (center) and his chief of staff, Ken Kanikeberg. Both have been instrumental in increasing pupil transportation funding and protecting regional coordinator positions.
    <p>At the 2013 NAPT Summit, Carnahan (right) presented the American School Bus Council’s School Bus Champions award to Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn (center) and his chief of staff, Ken Kanikeberg. Both have been instrumental in increasing pupil transportation funding and protecting regional coordinator positions.</p>

One thing that seems to be the case now: I don’t know that fuel prices are really going to go down anymore. I think there are initiatives at work that want to keep the price of fuel as high as it is now, and that’s frustrating because I think that there are things we could be doing in this country that would help supply. Even though it’s a global system, supply and demand still has an impact on the pricing of things. Until we have a surplus, or all of it that we want, I think that we’re going to be stuck with high prices.

To be honest, if somebody could figure out a way to lower the cost at the well or at the pump, I’m afraid the government would tax something on it to make up the difference to keep [the price] up where it is right now.

Back in ‘97, there were ideas about alternative power sources and energy sources for making school buses do what they need to do, and none of them were working out very well. At the time, I don’t think they were necessarily engineered for student safety to the level that they needed to be compared to the existing power mechanisms. But we’re seeing a lot more going on now with alternative energy sources for powering the school buses.

Another change is that we have increasing bus prices that are just crazy. Whether it’s a clean air requirement or this or that, you just can’t manufacture a school bus at the reasonable prices that school districts were buying them for back in ‘97-99. Since then, the prices have gone up dramatically just on the clean air requirements. I think that the absolute cost of a school bus is a bigger factor in the cost of doing business than it used to be, and I don’t see that changing. And it’s not the fault of the manufacturers. It’s just the cost of doing business and the cost of what it takes to build a compliant vehicle.

We were dealing with school districts keeping buses longer than they should have, back when I was president before, and I know that at that time everybody was thinking, “Oh, we’ve got to get rid of those pre-77 school buses so that they meet the current safety standards.” I don’t know if anybody has any school buses that old anymore. Now, there’s a push to get rid of the buses that don’t meet the current clean air standards. But because the buses cost so much, that’s not easy to do.

Now, I don’t have any statistics on what’s going on with school bus replacement activities. When I was a state director, I could give you down to the gnat’s eyebrow how many old buses there were and whether school districts were on school bus replacement cycles that made sense so that they were operating a modern fleet. Because of the cost of school buses and just the financial resources that are available, I think there’s probably still a problem with people not replacing their school buses as regularly as they should.

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