THOMAS BUILT BUSES DEBUTS AUTO-REVERSING DOORS

Thomas Built Buses has introduced a new feature for some of its school buses: auto-reversing doors.  The first-of-its-kind feature is available on all versions of Thomas Built Buses’ Saf-T-Liner C2 and allows the front entry doors to reopen automatically if they sense an object or obstruction in the doorway.  In operation, an audible alarm will sound and the doors will automatically reverse motion to return to the fully open position.

“Safety is our number-one priority, and even one incident of a child, backpack, or article of clothing getting caught in the entryway doors is one too many,” said Caley Edgerly, president and CEO of Thomas Built Buses. “While this new feature does not replace the need for drivers to be aware at all times, it is one more tool to assist in making sure that school buses remain the safest form of transportation to and from school.”

In the event of damage or environmental factors such as snow in the stepwell, the auto-reversing door system is equipped with a manual bypass option that will disable the obstruction detection and allow the driver to complete their bus route, according to the school bus manufacturer. Disabling the auto-reverse feature reportedly does not prevent normal operation of the entrance door.

The auto-reversing door feature is now available for order.

IC BUS INTRODUCES SCHOOL BUS DRIVER BARRIER KIT

BUS DRIVER

IC Bus has introduced its new driver barrier kit aimed at providing added protection for school bus drivers by mitigating the spread of germs, such as COVID-19, on the school bus.

The barrier utilizes available stanchions to create a plexiglass barrier between the driver and passengers, according to a news release from the school bus manufacturer.

“We are excited to offer a barrier kit for our customers that provides added protection for school bus drivers by mitigating the spread of germs while maintaining the highest safety standards for the driver portion of the vehicle,” said Trish Reed, vice president and general manager of IC Bus. “Even with COVID-19, the school bus remains the safest form of transportation for students to get to school and back, and this barrier kit plays an additional role in reducing the spread of germs between passengers and the driver.”

With COVID-19, the school bus manufacturer said there has been increased demand throughout the industry for an additional solution to protect drivers when transporting students. When installed per the OEM guidelines, the barrier kit will comply with all federally approved safety standards, according to IC Bus.

VIRGINIA DISTRICT INSTALLS TEMPERATURE CHECK, VIDEO SYSTEMS ON BUSES

SYSTEMS ON BUSES

Video surveillance solutions provider Gatekeeper Systems Inc. has received purchase orders from a school district in Virginia to equip their school bus fleet with the company’s temperature check and video camera system. 

Warren County Public Schools will install Gatekeeper’s recently launched Intelligent Temperature Sensing Systems (ITSS) and video camera systems on approximately 50 of its school buses, Katie Wilson, Gatekeeper’s southeast regional manager, told School Bus Fleet.

Wilson said that installation for both systems will begin in November and is expected to be completed by December.

“I am impressed with the accuracy and speed of Gatekeeper’s Intelligent Temperature Sensing System,” Aaron Mitchell, transportation director at Warren County Public Schools, told SBF. “The system is user friendly and easy for our students to understand.”

ITSS is a contactless system that can determine body temperature within 20 milliseconds using thermal cameras, artificial intelligence, and video analytics, according to a news release from Gatekeeper. Visual and audible alarms are triggered when temperature thresholds are exceeded. When passengers board a bus, the ITSS panel records body temperature with an accuracy of +/- 0.5 degree Celsius. The seven-inch ITSS panel is equipped with facial recognition capabilities to improve accuracy and allows users to pursue future applications such as intelligent passenger routing, contact tracing, passenger counting, or payment verification, according to the video surveillance systems supplier. The panel also records images within 40 milliseconds and has storage capacity of 50,000 facial images.

A MORE CONNECTED WAY TO TRACK EMPLOYEE TRAINING

SYSTEMS ON BUSES

Employee, and especially bus driver, training is the foundation of the constant work that school districts do to not only be as safe as possible while transporting precious cargo, but also compliant with constantly changing state and federal requirements.

Recently announced at the Bus Technology Summit hosted by School Transportation News, a new training solution allows districts to truly customize and individualize tracking and reports, ensuring that administrators can easily manage the entry and pulling of data, and see individual employees’ training status at a glance. This new system is fully integrated with both the Traversa and Versatrans solutions from Tyler Technologies.

With this new training functionality, the following and more is possible:

Event Types

The most common types of training — behind-the-wheel, in-service, and classroom — can all be easily managed in the training module, but there’s enough customization for users to add any custom or unique training types used at their operation. They can also track if a vehicle is needed for the training event, reserve the vehicle(s), and take them out of the fleet rotation for that period of time.

Instructor Tracking

No matter who is executing the training, users of this new solution can track it. Internal instructors among the employee base are automatically listed, but the built-in customization means users can always add an external instructor. Additionally, they can specify which employees are authorized to instruct based on your event types.

Training Locations

If a training is happening on-campus, within the bus garage, or any place that already exists in the software, it will be pre-populated in the Locations list. If the training is happening off-site, that’s not a problem either. This is another opportunity to include custom fields. Custom or off-site locations will be saved within the system in case users need them again later.

Training Events

With event type, instructor, and location ready to go, users can pull all the info together into one record. They can take attendance, track the length of the event, and mark the status (e.g. Scheduled, Complete, or Canceled), and also copy a training event to use for a future time.

Employee Records

Because of complete integration with either the Traversa or Versatrans management solutions, users of this training module can easily link training events to individual employee records. This means no double-entry or separate systems, and individual training records are available at a glance.

Reporting

This solution offers intuitive reporting for the most common training needs, meaning that it’s not just easy to enter information into the system, it’s also easy to pull it back out to meet the needs of local, state, or federal requirements.

TIPS FOR GOING ELECTRIC

Last week we talked about districts buying electric buses.  This week we have a list of tips for going electric.

  • Don’t let infrastructure stall your project – start the process of charger installation in tandem with purchase.
  • Assess your needs – most operators will find that AC charging is sufficient to fully recharge their buses overnight.
  • Consult with the OEM on which EVSE is ideal – EVSEs provide two-way communication between the charger and vehicle to determine state of charge and how much power to transfer, and some EVSE brands tend to be more compatible than others.
  • Don’t “over-upgrade” electrical service without proper consultation. Pulling more power than is needed to charge vehicles can actually increase the electrical cost for an entire facility dramatically, due to what are known as “demand charges” which can push all utility costs into a higher tier.
  • Consider installing EV charging stations on a separate utility meter from the facility itself. This can allow qualification for special EV charging rates provided by many utilities and also makes it easy to track charging costs by monitoring a dedicated meter.
  • Know your electricity rates. Time-of-use rates exist in many markets which disincentivize electricity use in the evenings, meaning overnight charging is often more affordable.
  • Use available software to schedule charging for times when the cost is lowest. For example, Lion buses have a built-in software feature that allows you to schedule charging in certain time windows, even if the bus is plugged in continuously.

Electrification might sound daunting at first, but by owning their own infrastructure, school bus operators stand to benefit by lowering costs and simplifying daily operations.

Once the right pieces are in place fleet operators benefit from cleaner fleets, lower costs and, most importantly, healthier kids. After all, no one likes buying gas – and as a bonus, plugging in is cheaper.

ELECTRIC SCHOOL BUS CHARGING

SYSTEMS ON BUSES

As governments and municipalities around the world continue to set goals for decarbonization over the coming years in order to create a more sustainable society, school transportation fleets face a rapidly approaching electrified future. The benefits, of course, are clear – improved health for our kids through cleaner air and lower particulate emissions, less noise pollution, as well as lower fleet costs and increased reliability. In short, everyone wins.

In order for electric school transportation to rapidly scale, there is another need to be addressed – where will all of these new zero-emission buses charge?  The good news is charging really isn’t as complex as it may seem at first glance.

With a few unique exceptions, the majority of fleet charging is done overnight when buses would otherwise be out of use. As a bonus, that means fleet operators effectively start the day with the equivalent of a “full tank.” Daily refueling stops are also no longer necessary, simplifying dispatch schedules. Buses just plug in after finishing their daily routes.

The market is constantly evolving, and new DC charging products are coming to market which offer lower charging power (24 kilowatts) and have the potential to bring significant savings to an infrastructure installation project.

Once the right pieces are in place fleet operators benefit from cleaner fleets, lower costs and, most importantly, healthier kids. After all, no one likes buying gas – and as a bonus, plugging in is cheaper.

STUDENT TRANSPORTERS FACE CHALLENGES IN KEEPING BUSES CLEAN, SAFE AMID COVID-19

SYSTEMS ON BUSES

Most students are now back in class — either online or in person. What does each mean for school bus transportation?

Many school districts nationwide are offering both in-classroom and online education under hybrid models, with about 65 percent of students in schools and the rest learning at home. For those students attending school once again in person, riding a school bus during the COVID-19 era means wearing a mask and sitting no more than two to a seat, often one to a seat, the latter recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Administrators care about safety but realize it can be impossible to keep students six feet apart or more on a bus. Because many parents will drive their children to school, there are fewer students on buses.

But in locations where routes are running, it means using hand sanitizer and being aware the virus can strike anyone at any time. Bus drivers are now tasked with wiping down all interior surfaces to reduce the possibility of virus transmission, before and after runs. In some areas, it means using disinfecting sprayers and misters.

Efforts will be made to ensure student safety on buses, but social distancing may be impossible to guarantee. Many parents are expected to take their children to school and so there will be fewer students on buses. Students will be required to wear masks on buses, but in some districts they will be expected to bring their own. Some masks will be available to those who need them.  Hand sanitizer will also be encouraged.

“We can’t provide PPE for every student, it would cost us millions of dollars and there wouldn’t be enough supply,” said David Uecker, director of transportation for Hutto School District in Texas. “We will have 51 students per bus or no more than two people in each bus seat. We can’t really do social distancing on buses.”

There will be a strong emphasis on cleaning the interiors of the buses. Buses will be disinfected between elementary school and secondary school runs. There will be a deep cleaning each night after the last run. All surfaces on the buses will carefully be cleaned and sprayed, Uecker relayed.

“All students must wear masks on buses and wherever possible we have two students to a seat,” said Ryan Dillingham, the director of transportation at Knox County School District in Tennessee. “Because many parents don’t want their children on buses and [instead] take their children to school, we have some buses with as few as five children. We do not allow more than two people in a seat. We clean the buses twice a day and we keep the windows open. We have plenty of hand sanitizer on each bus for the riders.”

Dillingham said this year has been a challenge. “We have never done this before and we are striving to be flexible. We have dedicated professionals making it work,” he added.

GEORGIA SCHOOL BUS DRIVER MAKES DESKS FOR STUDENT ONLINE LEARNING

Michelle Minor, a school bus driver for Gwinnett County Public Schools near Atlanta, said it’s always been in her nature to help those in need. So, when the opportunity presented itself to give students their own space while virtual learning, she didn’t think twice about donating her time.

“These kids need a positive spot to learn,” Minor told School Transportation News. She explained that many students are sitting at their kitchen tables, with little if any space dedicated to their online classes, due to the coronavirus,.

Minor started making desks for students in the community after realizing how inexpensive and easy it was to make one for her youngest son Chase Simmons, 8, for online classes in the spring. While some students who attend Gwinnett County Public Schools have returned to physical classrooms, as her two sons have, she said many are continuing to learn in a virtual format.

Once she made the first desk, she posted a flyer via social media to determine if any other families in the community would be interested. Now, it’s become her family’s project. Chase helps with painting the desks while her eldest son, Skyler Simmons, 15, helps with the assembling. Her husband Jeremy Simmons also helps with loading the benches when people come to pick them up.

Minor said she has always worked with her hands. When she lived in Oregon, she worked in the computer industry but grew tired of sitting behind a desk all day. In an effort to find an alternative, she attended classes at a trade school for women.

She soon began working for Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that builds houses for those in need. She became a carpenter, framer and housebuilder, she relayed.  Now she builds desks in between her morning and afternoon school bus routes. She became a school bus driver two years ago after initially working for a roofing company after moving to Georgia in 2016.   She said she and her sons can construct about 15 to 20 desks a week.

Minor also only charges customers for the building materials and occasional tool maintenance, such as purchasing a new saw blade, while she and her sons donate their time. If a family can’t afford to pay for the desk, others in the community can donate money through her online website, justaminorproject.com.  She also recently posted the desk blueprints online, so people in other areas of the world can also pitch in. 

We find that many school bus drivers all over the country are finding a way to give to their community in ways that don’t include driving a bus!

VIRTUAL STUDENT CLASSES PUT SCHOOL BUS DRIVER EMPLOYMENT AT RISK

Seemingly like most everything else when it comes to addressing the new novel coronavirus, the fate of whether school bus drivers stay on district or company payrolls remains a local decision based on economics as much or more so than safety.  Media reports nationwide are calling attention to the fate of school bus drivers, as many districts don’t require traditional pupil transportation services right now amid starting the new school year virtually. 

Harmony Weinberg, a spokeswoman for a district in Washington state, shared that the recent decision to layoff all 175 of the district’s school bus drivers wasn’t taken lightly. “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the Edmonds School District in many ways since this spring,” Weinberg told School Transportation News. “We are heartbroken that we will not be teaching and learning in-person as we start the 2020-2021 school year. Not only does this cause stress and unknowns for students and their families, it also creates other challenges to our entire school system, including our transportation department.”

She added that because the district will not be transporting students on school buses until in-person learning takes place, and due to reductions in state funding, the district was forced to implement bus driver layoffs. Weinberg explained that some students will be receiving individualized transportation, as part of their individual education plans. She added that some school bus drivers will be recalled within the next couple of weeks to perform that required transportation service.

“Funding for transportation is based on student ridership,” Weinberg said. “When ridership falls, funding falls. And unfortunately, until we can transport students again, funding to pay drivers is not an option.”

Alice Independent School District in Texas is, as some districts are, utilizing its school bus drivers during remote learning. Transportation Supervisor Daniel Galvan said the district started school on Sept. 8 and will go virtual for at least the first month, with the possibility of remaining online for another month.

He said his part-time school bus drivers will have the option to assist in the maintenance department, while the full-time transportation staff will have other duties in the meantime. He said that the drivers who choose not to transition into maintenance for the time being and instead choose to remain home during online education, will not get paid.

When schools do open up again for in-person education, districts hope to provide a full transportation program, as usual. But that could be a challenge amid the ongoing driver shortage that has been exacerbated by fears about returning to work and, at least up until last month, additional weekly unemployment benefits that exceeded their normal salaries.

PSA REMINDS MOTORIST ABOUT RISKS OF NOT STOPPING FOR SCHOOL BUSES

SYSTEMS ON BUSES

A new video produced by the Child Safety Network depicts the tragic consequences of motorists failing to heed school buses that are loading and unloading students.

It dramatizes the aftermath of a female driver realizing that she struck and killed a student who was crossing the street from his school bus stop toward home.

“Don’t pass from either direction. It’s not just the law, it’s a child’s life,” the video concludes.

Det. Daniel Sperry of the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office in Idaho also shares during the video a personal story about the ramifications of not stopping for school buses. As he recounted for STN EXPO Reno attendees in 2016, the Dec. 20, 2011 death of his 11-year-old stepdaughter MaKayla Strahle when she was struck by an illegal passer moments after exiting her school bus just across the road from the family’s home.

“We wrote Makayla’s eulogy on Christmas Eve,” he says.

Ward Leber, founder and CEO of the Child Safety Network, told School Transportation News that the video is the first in a series that will be posted online, starting Sept. 15. Leber and CSN were instrumental in getting the U.S. Senate to proclaim September as School Bus Safety Month.