For the first time since before the COVID 19 pandemic, the School Bus Fleet team in September had the chance to host a networking event between school transportation providers and vendors.
School Bus Fleet ConneX (SBFX) brought us all together at the McCormick Ranch resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. We spent a few days connecting over our common interest in the safe delivery of children to and from school across the United States.
I had the privilege of moderating two discussions during the event. One was about school bus safety and seat belts, with Alex Spann, school transportation director for the state of Tennessee, and Karim Johnson, our SBF Admin of the Year and now director of transportation for Stafford County Schools in Virginia; the other covered the practical considerations of school fleet electrification, with Jim Taylor of Thomas Built Buses and Janet Ulrich, transportation director for Aurora Public Schools in Colorado.
A fatal ejection accident in Ohio in August sparked renewed interest in a federal mandate for seat belts on school buses. My takeaway from our discussion at SBFX: federal requirements haven’t caught on before and they’re not likely to do so now, but local school districts probably should have the option to give students an added level of security.
Not ready to take my word for it?
We surveyed School Bus Fleet readers and learned that 74.1% of respondents opposed a federal seat belt mandate, while 25.9% want one. Opponents complain seat belts are an unenforceable inconvenience on a vehicle that’s been designed with compartmentalization and remains the safest way for a child to get to and from school every day. Proponents counter that using seat belts can help improve student passenger behavior and reduce injuries and fatalities.
During the second session, we continued a running theme at SBFX about ongoing efforts to convert the nation’s hundreds of thousands of school buses from diesel to electric. The bottom line from this conversation: federal funding for buses is scheduled to run out in a few years, but we’re not likely to see price parity between conventional diesel buses and their electric counterparts for another 10 years. So, it’s going to fall to states to fund EV initiatives. Mandates are in the works for states like New York and California, but what’s the likelihood that more rural states will push to spend their money on new technology before we reach parity?
When EV buses join fleets, it sounds like technicians adapt more easily than drivers, according to Ulrich. But once drivers get used to their quieter, cleaner rides, they seem to like them.
Taylor, EV sales manager for Thomas Built, urged transportation directors to plan ahead especially for the charging infrastructure that the district might need to support electric buses when they finally arrive. The time between turning in the purchase order and getting the EV bus in your barn remains somewhere between eight months and a year.
All in all, I came away from SBFX feeling re-energized and glad to have in-person time with the readers who give this publication purpose. Did you attend? What’d you think? And if you didn’t attend, fear not: we’ll hold SBFX again Sept. 23-25, 2024.
Hope to see you there!
Got news? Reach out to Executive Editor Wes Platt at firstname.lastname@example.org.