Averaging 85,000 miles a year, the life expectancy of a school bus is significantly less than your standard sedan. Add in the wear and tear of Michigan winters and 50 plus children wreaking havoc five days a week for nine months a year and this lifespan is even shorter.
In an effort to rejuvenate the district’s current 110-vehicle fleet, the Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Education voted unanimously on April 11 to spend $2 million toward the purchase of 23 Thomas Built school buses.
“This year, we are fortunate, in my opinion, that the Thomas Built and IC buses are really of equal quality,” said Brendan Wagner, Chippewa Valley director of transportation. “They each have their own unique options and characteristics, but essentially they are equal … I was almost able to go with the bottom line.”
Accepting bids from Bluebird, IC and Thomas Built–all brands present in the current fleet–the final decision came down to IC and Thomas Built.
Asking the opinion of district mechanics and driving staff, Wagner said overall, comments showed a preference for Thomas Built’s C2 model.
“Some of the main issues were the visibility of the C2,” Wagner said. “It’s a higher profile bus, the way the dashboard is laid out is preferred by drivers and mechanics were happy with the Cummins engine.”
While Wagner admitted he found Thomas Built buses lacking in terms of quality and dealership service when they first came on the market years ago, he has since changed his opinion and is “pleased to get back into looking at Thomas.”
These 23 additions to the current 110-vehicle fleet are part of the district’s long-term plan to reduce the fleet to 100 vehicles.
The new buses, many with larger seating capacities, will replace older models that will be auctioned off at the end of the year.
Funding for this purchase will come from the 2010 Building and Site Fund, which has about $4.7 million set aside to purchase some 50 buses, said Scott Sederlund, assistant superintendent of Business and Operations.
But with the state’s push to privatize as many services as possible, is this purchase being made prematurely? Trustee Andrew Patzert raised this question in light of the multimillion-budget deficit the district will face with the state’s proposed cuts to education.
By privatizing its transportation, the district has two choices, Sederlund said. Either the district could maintain its own buses and use a private company for service, or sell its buses to a private company for service and bus use.
“If we move forward and we’re required to (privatize), we would just be looking at service,” Sederlund said. “I’m not sure we should sell our buses, because how do you buy back 100 buses to get out of the privatization business? That’s a very significant risk for the district to sell all buses.”
Purchasing the buses through the MSBO/MAPT Bus Purchase Program, which provides a substantial discount, brings the total cost of the buses to $2,031,926.
The district plans to purchase: five Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 53-passenger special-needs buses with rear wheelchair lifts ($91,164 per bus), two Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 53-passenger special-needs buses with front wheelchair lifts ($92,221 per bus), 12 Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 77-passenger school buses ($86,649), and four Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2 77-passenger school buses with luggage compartments ($87,969).
While these buses will add to the Chippewa Valley fleet, Interim Superintendent Ron Roberts said the number of bus routes would not be affected.
“It really doesn’t affect the routes,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how many extra buses we have in our fleet for extra things. There might be a few less buses used for extra curricular activities. They tighten the routes constantly. At least as we sit here right now the level of service isn’t going to change for buses.”
Bus routes are finalized during the last week of August.