Students have headed back to school this week throughout Utah and Idaho. Many of them ride buses to get to school, but only a select few get to ride in a one-of-its-kind bus in Cache Valley. Wayne Reese, Administrator for Transportation for the Cache and Logan school districts, says one bus in the fleet of 145 school buses is equipped with technology not only unique to Cache Valley, but also to the state.
“We’re actually really excited about it for the safety enhancement for the driver and the students,” Reese says when describing Bus 44. “It has cameras located all around the bus so when a driver is loading or unloading students it has a camera system displaying the video in the big inside mirror, right in front of the driver, so they can see any students outside the bus.”
The cameras become engaged when the driver uses a turn signal or puts the vehicle in reverse. Another part of the safety enhancement on Bus 44 is what is called the Mobile Eye. The system notifies the driver if he or she is tailgating too closely to vehicles by vibrating the driver’s seat. If the bus drifts into another lane without first initiating a turn signal the seat will vibrate, alerting the driver. The driver will also be alerted if a student is in front of the bus within a certain proximity, so the driver knows not to move the bus.
“This is the first bus purchased by a school district in the state of Utah with this technology,” Reese continues. “This fall when we spec our school buses that we’ll take delivery of next summer, we are specking all of them with this new technology. That is one of the requirements we are going to ask of our vendors.”
Another unique aspect of the bus is its fuel: it operates on propane.
“We started about three years ago looking at alternative fuels,” Reese says. “We investigated electric, natural gas, propane and the diesel buses are a lot cleaner than they used to be. Looking at the different alternative fuels, to purchase a natural gas-powered school bus adds $35,000-$40,000 to the vehicle cost. The infrastructure is also expensive to put in. That was a concern. An electric school bus costs about $500,000 per bus. As we were looking, we could get a propane school bus for what was comparable to the cost of a diesel school bus.
“Not only was it more cost effective to go with that alternative fuel, but also the fuel infrastructure was much less. We spent $150,000 and put in a two pump station. We haven’t paid more than a dollar a gallon yet for propane. Not saying that we won’t, but so far it’s been running a third of the cost for diesel.”
Not only has the propane saved the school districts money in fuel, but also time. During extreme cold weather (which is prone to happen in Cache Valley) the propane-fueled buses start right up, as opposed to diesel-fueled buses that need to be plugged in or warmed up because the diesel fuel will gel. Currently, the buses that operate on propane are only the smaller buses for special needs students.
Reese says the safety features on Bus 44 are impressive, but all school bus drivers need the help of everyone on the road to ensure the safety of students.
“Be aware that a school bus will be stopping, to pick up students or drop them off. That’s their function,” says Reese. “Be cautious and observant.”
He says besides being generally aware of school buses in your area, he says it is important to understand what happens when a bus prepares to drop off or pick up students.
“When the yellow lights come on a bus, that actually becomes a reduced speed zone,” he explains, “the same as crosswalk lights. When the reds come on everyone is required to stop. The stop signs come out, one in the back of the bus and one in the front, so just stop. Be aware that is what a school bus is for, to pick up and drop off students safely.”
He says the bus drivers notice a lot of distracted drivers on the roads and it’s his plea that more drivers be aware of their surroundings, especially when approaching areas where young children will be gathered.
“The most important safety feature of a school bus is its driver. Even with all this technology, someone needs to use it and someone needs to be aware and that’s the school bus driver.”
According to multiple reports and multiple agencies, Reese says school buses are, by far, the safest way for children to get to and from school, ahead of walking, biking and even getting rides to school from parents.
He says the districts are in need of more drivers. There are two routes that currently are without a permanent driver, being filled with office staff or temporary help. He says starting pay begins at $18.33/hour.
“It’s great part time work. You get school holidays off and summers off,” Reese says with a smile.
Anyone interested in becoming a school bus driver can apply online, or Reese invites them to stop by his offices at 1550 North 800 West in Logan.