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PUBLISHER’S CORNER 2020 Shift Points WRITTEN BY TONY CORPIN | TONY@STNONLINE.COM P


redicting when and why markets will move is a challenging exercise. Over the years, I’ve used the stock market as a fairly accurate data point on economic health. I keep an eye on a small group


of major publicly traded companies, particularly those that are aligned to the school transportation industry, for information and forward guidance. Overall, I’m happy to report the outlooks are pretty


positive for many key suppliers to our industry. At the same time, global trade, tariffs, increasing commod- ity costs, and fuel prices remain at the forefront of the conversation. A standard benchmark for industry health is data on


new OEM school bus manufacturing. As reported on page 13, the numbers OEMs provided last year remained relatively flat, compared to the 2017-2018 cycle. But they still resulted in the second-best total in over a decade. In addition, green alternative energy school bus


purchases continued on an upward trajectory. Propane- powered school buses remained the leader, surging over 20 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, CNG school buses dipped slightly, while


electric made big gains, relatively speaking. Keep in mind that the school bus manufacturers are forecast- ing that a third to a half of all new school bus sales in 10 years will be electric. Headlines about energy and fuel volatility were prom-


inent again in 2019, and I’d expect to see more of the same in 2020. School districts and private contractors generally take advantage of bulk fuel purchasing rates, but I’d recommend keeping a close eye on this line item. This includes the price of propane, gasoline, CNG, and electric power. Per the U.S. Department of Energy, diesel fuel prices


have held within a 20.5 cent range in 2019, from a low of $2.966 reported on Feb. 4 to a high of $3.171 on May 6. The current diesel fuel cost is trending to the lower end of the price range, partly because of domestic U.S. oil output, OPEC production and overall global fuel supply volumes, compared to demand. Clean diesel school buses are still in high demand, but


the after-treatment systems continue to be a sticking point for some buyers as they consider school bus op- tions. Also, keep in mind that diesel engines are going to be subject to more stringent EPA emission require- ments in the coming years, which will likely increase overall unit costs. I see green alternative fuels continuing to take a big-


ger foothold within the school bus industry in 2020. Many school transportation professionals I’ve spoken with are taking full advantage of VW Mitigation Trust


146


Fund allocations to expand their fleets. The continued appetite for information and grant


funding for electric school buses and infrastructure has accelerated quicker than many industry professionals anticipated. In response, some transportation directors I’ve spoken with at industry conferences recently are starting to prepare for an operational shift by thinking differently. The engagement of electric utilities and the promise


of V2G could make school buses an income-generating asset, which challenges industry norms with the pos- sible monetization of electricity and recycling of batter- ies for their rare earth elements. As global demand and innovation for electric vehicles increases, what will be the impact to our industry? In recent fiscal earnings reports, Blue Bird and Navi-


star forecasted between 34,000 and 35,000 new large school bus builds this year. Blue Bird President and CEO Phil Horlock cited not only VW money but also contin- ued growth in property taxes as the catalysts. Property taxes are always a major funding mechanism for op- erating revenue of municipalities, school districts and transportation departments. According to the latest outlook by the National Asso-


ciation of Realtors, expect continued economic growth, slower real estate price gains and a small chance for re- cession in 2020. “Real estate is on firm ground with little chance of price declines,” said NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. I believe 2020 will be a shift point, with technology a


continued major focus. According to a recent reader- ship study, over 600 magazine subscribers identified new technology products that they were interested in purchasing over the next 12-months. Additionally, while speaking to numerous suppliers


and transportation operators at fall conferences, I heard more of the same, with new technology RFPs and bids in process or coming soon. Be sure to use this ultimate resource guide of contacts


and data to help your team throughout the year discover new products and the companies that sell them. I hope to see you at the upcoming 2020 TSD Confer-


ence and STN EXPO in Reno or Indianapolis. It’s a great opportunity to connect in-person with supplier part- ners and peers to solve challenges in your operation. Let’s talk. ●


School Transportation News Magazine | Buyer’s Guide 2019


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