The NCAA Final Four wasn’t the only hot topic in the Phoenix area in early April. Fuel choices, school reform, and the ongoing driver shortage made for spirited discussions at the 2017 edition of School Bus eXchange in Scottsdale, Arizona.
While college basketball fans flocked to the University of Phoenix Stadium for the championship tournament, about 30 school transportation officials and dozens of supplier representatives came to town for the third annual SBX educational networking event, which is held by the National Association for Pupil Transportation and School Bus Fleet.
This year’s SBX took place April 3 to 5 at the Embassy Suites Scottsdale Resort. The agenda included a keynote speech, roundtable discussions, one-on-one meetings, and group presentations.
The roundtables covered a variety of timely topics, one of which was alternative fuels in school transportation. John Gonzales, a senior engineer with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, facilitated the discussion. He asked attendees to identify the top issues that come into play when analyzing the use of alternative fuels.
Some participants pointed to infrastructure and availability as key factors, including Harry Davis, director of transportation for High Prairie (Alberta) School Division No. 48.
“If I was going to go to an alternative fuel such as propane, are the tanks there to provide the refueling capability?” Davis said. “Onsite, offsite for field trips, whatever the case may be.”
High Prairie School Division is currently operating one propane school bus and is considering whether to acquire more.
“I’m testing it out to make a better decision and seeing what peers are finding out on their units,” Davis said.
Financial factors — bus purchase price, fuel and maintenance costs, availability of grants, etc. — are also top considerations for those looking at alt-fuel buses.
Other factors that roundtable participants cited in the analysis of alternative fuels included training for drivers and mechanics, vehicle reliability, community perception and concerns, potential risks, and the challenges of switching.
Participants also identified several advantages of alt-fuels. That list included:
• Less oil
• Less hardware
• Quieter (“I can hear the kids,” as one director said her drivers have put it)
• Cold starts (“You’re not dealing with auxiliary heaters,” Davis said)
Special-needs expert Linda Bluth served as one of the roundtable moderators at SBX, and she gave a keynote speech in which she discussed U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, school choice, and potential impacts on pupil transportation.
SBX attendees also covered school bus maintenance and replacement, reasons that drivers leave the job, and the impact of technologies in pupil transportation.
More coverage of the event will appear in the June issue of School Bus Fleet. Meanwhile, check out photo highlights from SBX 2017 here.
In 2018, School Bus eXchange will return to Scottsdale. The fourth edition of the event will be held April 16 to 18 at the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch.