Transportation Director John Aymil led a lively discussion at the November 13 BOE meeting about the district’s innovative fleet and how the transportation department is addressing the challenge of sharing the road with distracted drivers.
Randolph is one of only two towns in the state to employ propane-powered buses. Although these “leaner, greener and cleaner” buses are common in neighboring New York and Pennsylvania, Aymil explained that Randolph was the first district in New Jersey to purchase them in 2010, followed years later by Toms River.
Now our fleet of 53 school vehicles includes 24 propane buses, along with 13 diesel buses and 16 gas vans and buses.
During a breakout session at the teachers’ convention earlier this month, Aymil discussed Randolph’s decision to use propane buses, and several towns have already contacted him to learn more. Their interest is hardly surprising, considering that both propane and diesel buses get the same 5 miles per gallon, but according to Aymil, the cost of propane was 83 cents per gallon recently, compared to $2.25 per gallon for diesel.
The propane buses have lower maintenance costs, and unlike diesel and gas vehicles, they don’t require emissions testing. They are also significantly quieter, which is particularly important for drivers who need to be able to hear the students onboard while still focusing on the road.
Safety First With Better Belts, Smarter Cameras and Ongoing Training
Randolph added four new 54-passenger propane buses to the fleet this year, and a new van is scheduled for delivery. The state mandates replacement of school buses every 15 years, regardless of mileage, and the oldest vehicle in the town’s current fleet is from 2005.
The new vehicles all have three-point seatbelts, a New Jersey requirement as of October 2018. The state “grandfathered” existing lap belts in older buses, but these will naturally phase out with new buses coming online. Regarding the new seatbelts, Aymil said, “They’re much better to use, and we use these buses now for all our trips that we can. They go out first before the older style buses with the lap belts. But the lap belts are still fine.”
Turning next to the alarming and widespread issue of vehicles passing school buses, Aymil pointed to Center Grove Road, West Hanover Avenue, Sussex Turnpike, Dover Chester Road and Route 10 as the local roads where most bus passing occurs.
He commented, “People are not stopping for school buses for a number of reasons. One, because they don’t want to be late, but I would say maybe 70-75% of the time, they’re texting. They’re not paying attention…They don’t even slow down, zip right by like the bus wasn’t even there. And that’s hard to understand when you have a 50-foot school bus that’s yellow with lights going on, but they do it.”
District buses are currently equipped with four cameras and voice recording, and now the Transportation Department is testing a new camera system that includes a high-resolution camera attached to the side of the bus. In addition to capturing the license plate number of any vehicle that passes illegally, the new system will stream images to the department in real time. Such readily available data will allow for a rapid response by the district and the Randolph Police, who continue to be exceptional partners in the effort to ensure bus safety.
In closing, Aymil emphasized the importance the entire team places on driver training to ensure safety, from defensive driving to student management and discipline to Epi-Pen and basic first aid.