At Jericho (N.Y.) School District, we work closely with our insurance group, the New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal (NYSIR), to be sure that our students are safe and our school district is protected. That includes student travel for activity trips.
In the Long Island area, there has been a decrease in the number of motorcoach carriers, and some of the remaining companies do not meet the insurance requirements recommended by NYSIR. Last year, we lost several local motorcoach carriers that we have worked with for many years, leaving school districts to look for services outside of our area. This drives the costs even higher and adds hours to the driver’s log book.
At Jericho School District, we have both a mechanic who conducts motorcoach inspections and a dispatcher who reviews driver abstracts for every motorcoach trip we secure. In several instances, a trip was delayed or canceled because either the motorcoach or the driver did not meet our safety requirements.
Fueled with frustration, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We worked with Thomas Built Buses to design a safe school bus equipped with amenities found on a motorcoach vehicle.
The upgraded bus, which we received in May 2016, features four-wheel air-ride suspension, driver seat air ride, five drop-down screens for DVDs or CDs, overhead racks, undercarriage storage, acoustic interior panels, tinted windows, school-approved passenger bucket seats with three-point seat belts, a backup camera integrated into the driver’s rearview mirror, and front and rear air conditioning. At just over $170,000, the bus cost about $30,000 more than our regular school bus purchases. Our first and foremost motive for doing this is that our students are safest on a school bus, for numerous reasons. One is that a school bus is painted National School Bus Yellow, which is identified by all motorists as a vehicle carrying students. Also, a school bus has to meet many federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS). Some examples:
• FMVSS 220 specifies minimum standards for school bus structural strength in a rollover.
• FMVSS 221 deals with school bus body joint strength.
• FMVSS 222 sets stringent standards for school bus passenger seating and crash protection.
• FMVSS 111 requires greater visibility from mirrors.
• FMVSS 217 mandates additional emergency exits.
• FMVSS 301 requires greater fuel system integrity.
We believe that building a school bus with motorcoach amenities was the perfect solution for our activity trips. Not only is this the safest ride in town, it has also proven to be very economical. We no longer need to call staff in early for motorcoach inspections or driver abstract reviews, because we own the bus and provide the driver.
In July, during the New York Association for Pupil Transportation’s 2017 conference in Albany, I had a chance to show off the bus. I was delighted when representation from NYSIR took a few minutes to check out the bus, and they applauded our effort to provide safe transportation for our student activity trips.
We schedule this bus for trips almost every day. It can also deliver students to school and home again.
In my estimation, this bus will have paid for itself in less than three years. This was our perfect solution to an extremely frustrating situation.
Lori-Ann Savino is director of transportation for Jericho School District and president of the New York Association for Pupil Transportation.