Guest Editorial |

Guest Editorial

Submitted by Brad Barker, Park City School District vehicle maintenance supervisor

In May of 2006 an article came out in the Salt Lake Tribune entitled "Those big school buses could make your kid sick." Although the statement is true to some extent, the chances of that happening in Park City School District are very slim. I will not say it is impossible but the systems we purchase and maintenance program we run in Park City reduce most all chances of this happening.

Park City School District has the best maintenance program in the state, if not the country. In 2005 we were ranked by School Bus Fleet Magazine in the top ten best maintenance programs in the United States. We are constantly and routinely making inspections and adjustments to bus engines to ensure they are running at the best possible efficiency level.

As far as air quality goes, most of the diesel engines, with the exception of two in our fleet, are of the latest design, electronically controlled, some with catalytic-converter-type mufflers or the new diesel particulate filters required after 2007 by the EPA. To reduce exhaust fumes and reduce maintenance on our buses, we asked for a voluntary ‘zero idle’ policy from our drivers. This means that when the bus pulls into a loading zone at a school or parking area the engine is shut off. Drivers are also instructed to not idle at any time for periods longer than 5 minutes. Some exceptions are allowed in special circumstances such as severe cold weather in order to keep the interior of the bus warm. Our electronic black-box system in our buses tells us how they are doing when it comes to idling. So far most are doing very well with the voluntary process. In addition, all buses purchased after 2005 are equipped with a diesel-fired auxiliary heating unit that can be used to maintain bus heat while the engine is shut off. These units burn one-tenth the amount of fuel as an engine idling. This zero idling policy also saves the district money which would otherwise be spent on fuel.

Another option available to us we are utilizing as best we can is the use of bio-diesel. We presently run bio-diesel in all diesel-powered support-services vehicles, tractors and two of our smaller school buses. Bio-diesel has been used in Park City School District for the last four years in the eight stationary backup generator sets located at eight of our facilities. Discussion is taking place presently to start using bio-diesel in the entire diesel-powered fleet which will continue to reduce harmful pollutants from exhaust emissions.

Other alternative fuels we have investigated over the past several years are CNG, propane, ethanol, electric hybrid and fuel-cell powered vehicles. Until further support and funding can be obtained for these other types of power within the Park City area, we have no choice but to stay away from them. Increased cost of purchasing these alternative fueled vehicles is the second reason for not buying into them. A CNG-powered bus is 60 to 70 % more costly to purchase than a diesel-powered bus, efficiency is less, range is less, and available fueling sites are limited within our operating area.

On the state level, Park City School District is looked at by other school districts as a model by what we do and how we do it. This includes our maintenance program, components we purchase, as well as how we specify our buses. I am continually receiving reports from others which tell me that they are following our lead. This is probably due to the condition of our fleet and how well we are able to make buses last and look good for the life of the bus.

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We may spend a little more up front for the initial purchase of a bus but we do this because over the years we have found what works for us and what holds up for twelve years. Can we buy a cheaper bus? Yes, but doing so would end up costing the taxpayers more in the long run due to increased maintenance costs. Part of this additional cost is purchasing special engines which work better in our high altitude and are more efficient. This reduces air pollution and saves everyone money in the long run.

Everyone should do their part to maintain equipment in proper working order. Doing so helps our environment. I would be interested in seeing Summit County become more environmentally visioned even if it meant imposing restrictions or new rules on what we do and how we do it.