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W


hen purchasing school buses, school districts have always weighed the equip- ment they want against what they think they can afford. Increasingly, decisions


have come down to a battle of technology versus cost. Te underlying question that decision-makers ask is whether the ever-evolving technology would make students safer. Each school district’s mantra has been “student safety is our most important concern.” Tat refrain has been repeated in increasing numbers, as deadly crashes during the past two years have resulted in the deaths of at least 15 students and injuries to dozens of others. Tese numbers include:


• Six students who died when their school bus over- turned on Nov. 21, 2016 in Chattanooga, Tennessee


• A student who was killed in a violent crash last May in Paramus, New Jersey


• A tragic week during fall 2018 that saw five students killed while crossing the street to board their school buses in Indiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania.


Te three students killed in Indiana were siblings, and all of those killed or injured were in elementary school. Te industry responded in part by taking closer looks at technologies that are used in the commercial sector, but that are considered to be out of reach financially for many school districts. Tat technology includes:


• Electronic stability control to correct vehicles that might be swerving or skidding out of control


• Lane departure warnings • Forward collision mitigation systems • Automatic braking • 360-degree mirrors for better views of the danger zone • Pedestrian sensors that alert drivers to objects in the danger zone


Bus manufacturers also responded. IC Bus announced at the STN EXPO in July 2018 that it is making forward collision mitigation systems standard on all of the buses it sells. IC is also offering electronic stability controls and lane departure warnings as standard equipment for all models. Tomas Built Buses also announced at STN EXPO that it is making electronic stability control standard on all of its buses. In addition, Tomas will concurrently offer forward collision mitigation and lane departure warning systems as an option on its Saf-T-Liner C2. Blue Bird is now offering electronic stability control as an option, but has made no announcements concerning the inclusion of collision mitigation technology. STN reported last month that the results of a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) claimed that vehicle collision warning systems and


automatic emergency braking systems reduced front and rear-end crashes by 43 percent. Te study did not include school buses, but the findings are still noteworthy.


THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE? David Walton, administrative coordinator of vehicle


services for Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia, predicts that eventually everyone will follow IC Bus’ lead, in order to remain competitive. “Te electronic stability control and forward collision


avoidance systems are so huge, that everyone will have to get on board with those technologies,” Walton said. “Tat is the future.” Walton said the school bus industry is playing catch up with the automotive industry, but that situation is about to change. “Tis is an exciting time for us in student trans- portation, because these technologies will improve safety tremendously on what we do every day,” he added. Walton has a fleet of 919 Tomas Built buses and


transports 60,000 students a day. He explained the district is on a 14-year replacement cycle that allows him to replace about 60 buses a year on average, at a cost of about $5 million, although he has replaced 100 buses each of the past two years. “So, every year I’m able to go with the newest and latest technology,” he said. “Technology rebuilds itself, so we may add technology that wasn’t available the year before.” Walton added that he’s already ordered 55 buses from Tomas that will be delivered this summer and have electronic stability controls. “We put in an advanced order, so we will get the new technology at today’s prices,” Walton said. “Our buses average about $100,000 each, because of everything we put on them.” Prince William Public Schools pays cash for its new buses. Walton explained that buying decisions involving the number and types of buses needed to support the educa- tional mission are made first. Te decisions on the tech- nology that comes with those buses are driven by safety. “We look at the technology that governs safety,” Walton said. “Cost is in the back of our mind, because no matter how improved the technology is, I’ve still got to buy the bus. Cost is a factor, but not the deciding factor, Safety is the deciding factor. When we say safety is first, we really mean it.”


DECISIONS, DECISIONS Greg Jackson, executive director of transportation and fleet services for Jefferson County Schools outside of Denver, said he bases buying decisions on the needs of the various student populations, the terrain along the routes and then they look at cost. He said a major concern is that the district has enough buses with enough space for every child on a route.


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