Students in the Union Community School District will return to classes on August 23. On that day, once again, familiar looking yellow buses will be travelling roads that comprise the 255 square miles contained within the district’s boundaries. For the two newest buses in the Union fleet, what lies underneath the yellow paint is very different. For the first time, the school district will operate and maintain buses fueled by an alternative vehicle energy source- propane.
A proven alternative fuel: Once thought to be an emerging or unproven fuel source for vehicles, propane has actually been powering school buses since the 1970s. Interestingly enough, Texas, the heart of oil country, is where you’ll find around 20% of the propane-powered school buses on the road today.
Lower cost of ownership: While the investment in a propane-powered school bus may cost more initially, the significantly lower fuel and maintenance costs can quickly make up the difference. Mike Timmer, Union’s Director of Buildings, Grounds and Transportation, noted fueling a bus with propane could save the district as much as $1.50 per gallon when compared to diesel fuel. He said the cost to do an oil change in buses fueled by propane is also significantly lower, around $40, as compared to more than $300 for a diesel engine.
Investing in the local economy: Because the school district purchases propane from Consolidated Energy, a local supplier, taxpayer dollars help (literally) fuel the local economy.
Protecting the environment: Because propane-powered school buses use a closed-loop fuel system, fuel spills are highly unlikely. And should one occur, propane has been designated as a non-contaminant of soil, air and water by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Propane Buses at Union
Declining enrollment presents many challenges for school districts, especially for transportation departments. Inside school buildings, the cost to educate fewer pupils can be offset somewhat by fewer teachers and staff members. In the world of transportation, the roads buses travel do not get shorter. Fewer students, if anything, tend to increase maintenance costs, as districts attempt to operate with fewer vehicles that rack up the miles faster.
Statistics reported by the Iowa Department of Education for the 2016-17 school year note that, out of 362 reporting districts, Union’s 149,838 route miles were the 80th highest in the state. The average cost of $1,352.61 per pupil transported, though, ranked the district as the 27th most expensive.
As the 2018-19 school year gets underway next week, Union regular route and shuttle buses will travel approximately 700 miles a day (combined), as they safely transport over 400 students per day. These numbers do not include out activities, activity shuttles, and field trips, which can vary throughout the year.
In recent years, the district has revamped its routes and restructured the assignments of transportation personnel in an effort to reduce its overall transportation costs. According to Timmer, the district’s fleet includes 20 school buses, accompanied by six vans, four cars and two mini-buses.
One of the new buses powered by propane is the first full-sized bus in the district’s fleet to be equipped with a wheelchair lift. Timmer indicated this bus would operate primarily in Dysart, where there is a current need for that feature.
Bus safety continues to be a primary concern for district officials and members of the transportation department. The new school buses are equipped with the latest technology and safety features, including high-resolution cameras inside and out, along with easier-to-use emergency exit release handles.
In terms of safety, Timmer explained that reports of discipline issues on propane-fueled buses have been shown to be fewer than those on a traditional bus, lending credence to the belief that the quieter operation of the engine helps reduce the overall noise level on the bus.
Obey the Stop Arm!
Safety reminders for drivers:
- When the bus’s yellow flashers turn on, that signifies that it is preparing to have child get on or off the bus. All vehicles behind the bus must come to a complete stop.
- If you are approaching a bus from the opposite direction, slow your speed to 20 mph when the bus turns on its yellow flashers.
- On a two-lane road, traffic in both directions must come to a full stop when the lights are flashing red.
- On a four-lane road, traffic moving in the opposite direction must slow down and proceed with caution when either red or yellow flashers are present.
- Stop your vehicle at least 15 feet from the bus.
- Remain stopped until the flashing lights are turned off and the stop arm is pulled back in.
Safety reminders for students:
- Stop and look both ways before crossing a street.
- Make sure you’re bus driver can see you when you are crossing in front of the bus. If you can see the driver, the driver cannot see you.
- Never cross behind the bus.
- When getting on or off the bus, never cross the street until the bus driver signals it’s OK to cross.
Union Community Schools School Bus Riding Rules
Riding a school bus is a privilege reserved for those students who are mature enough to follow the rules.
- Be respectful to persons and property. (No rude behavior, fighting, tripping, etc.)
- Always use appropriate language.
- Stay seated while bus is in motion.
- Wait for the signal before crossing road.
- Don’t bring dangerous objects onto the bus.
- No throwing objects in or around the bus.
- Keep the aisle clear.
- No gum chewing, eating, or drinking without the bus driver’s permission.
- Keep all body parts inside the bus.
For any serious violations/offenses, the student’s bus riding privileges may be removed immediately. Loss of transportation for the remainder of the year is classified as a minimum of 60 days. In the event of less than 60 days left in the school year, the remainder of the revocation will be served in the subsequent school year.
Buses are primarily used to transport students to and from school. Students who ride the bus and other school district vehicles to and from school, extracurricular activities or any other destination must comply with school district policies, rules and regulations.
Students are responsible to the driver while on the bus or in another school vehicle, loading or unloading, or leaving the bus. The driver has the authority to discipline a student and may notify the principal of a student’s inappropriate bus conduct.
Notes for the Bus Driver – Elementary and middle school students who are not riding their regular bus route for any reason, ie., staying overnight with a friend, getting off at a relative’s house or getting off in town, should present a note to the bus driver signed by the parent concerning the change
Student Activity Transportation – Students who are provided transportation in school district transportation vehicles for extracurricular events will ride both to and from the event in the school vehicle unless arrangements have been made with the building principal or coach in writing. A student’s parent may personally appear and request to transport the student home from a school-sponsored event in which the student traveled to the event In a school district transportation vehicle.