Brandon buses older, replacements unlikely

Brandon Twp.-The Brandon School bus fleet is aging and school officials say the district may be in for a long rough ride.
‘It’s going to be tough to buy a bus when your’re cutting the budget, so it’s rather bleak that any new buses will be purchased soon,? said Beth Nuccio, Brandon School Board president.
‘We can run with these buses for a while longer. We put a lot of miles on each year, but they’re well maintained.?
In a report issued to the Brandon School Board at the April 19 board meeting, only one bus is a 2001 model. The other 35 buses are years 1990 to 2000. The 36-bus fleet travels about 460,000 miles each year and completes 140 trips each week. The bus mileage ranges from about 22,000 to more than 200,000 (as of Jan. 19, 2004).
In about 1996, says Nuccio, the Brandon buses were in pretty bad shape so new buses were purchased during the next few years.
‘I’m glad we did (buy buses). Now it’s in that cycle where we just can’t purchase any. Right now we’re open to any option that may help with the buses.?
In the 2004 Transportation report, Betty Martin, Brandon School Transportation director, requested the purchase of four new buses, to help update the fleet.
‘Right now we can go another year,? said Martin.
‘While the pending budget cuts have not hurt our fleet yet, the age of the buses will catch up sooner or later.?
Martin is concerned that since the Brandon School District has not purchased buses since the 2001 school year, coupled with a greater demand on the bus fleet and along with a pending budget cut of more than $1.3 million for the 2004-05 school year, a rough ride for school transportation could be forthcoming.
‘We should be replacing the buses at a rate of about 3 or 4 per year,? said Martin.
‘With both parents (of students) working, gas prices high and traffic congestion on M-15, more students are utilizing school buses now than ever.?
School buses last about 10 years and cost an average of about $60,000 each, says Martin.
‘However, you can find buses for significantly less if you buy them off the lot or lease them,? Martin said.
‘School buses are a very safe mode of transportation. Although buses may be older, they’re subject to the same inspection as new buses.?
According to a 2004 Brandon School District Transportation report, Brandon buses were involved in six minor accidents involving other vehicles.
While Brandon School District’s budget woes may curtail any new buses in the foreseeable future’they’re not alone with regard to an aging fleet.
In October 2003, the Michigan State Police announced that their 13 vehicle safety inspectors conducted the comprehensive mandatory 198-point bus equipment safety inspection on 17,326 school buses statewide during the 2002-2003 school year. That number is down slightly from the previous year since other school districts, like Brandon, did not buy new buses due to budget constraints.
The percentage of school buses passing on the first inspection continues to rise, up to 85.92 percent (14,887 buses) from 84.88 percent (15,423 buses) last year. The State Police inspect each bus annually and rate them as passing (no defects), yellow (repairs needed in 60 days) or red (defects and not driveable).
‘There are fewer new buses on the road today than one year ago,? said Brenda Dietrich, Michigan State Police Assistant Division Commander responsible for bus inspection and investigation.
‘We’ve not seen any adverse effects with the number (of new buses down) since September. The number does however reduce total buses inspected, since new buses require inspection right off the lot.?
While no significant problems have emerged so far from slightly older school bus fleets, Dietrich adds that the older buses receive the same scrutiny as newer buses.
From Sept.15, 2003 until April 15, 2004 the Michigan State Police have inspected 8,435 buses, says Dietrich, of which 1,004 were red tagged, 7,033 passed and 390 were yellow tagged. The poor and fair schools with a history of problems were first to be inspected this year due to state police budget cuts.
Due to the cost of buses, several local school districts, including Clarkston, Holly and Waterford School districts, no longer purchase new buses and have opted to lease their fleet.
Debbie Mentier, director of transportation for the Holly Schools District, says prior to a leasing program implemented by the school district about three years ago, the district’s fleet was in pretty rough shape.
‘Just a few years ago, 1982 buses were used on routes everyday,? said Mentier, director for the past 11 years. ‘We’ve reduced maintenance and the number of repairs have gone down drastically. We do the minor repairs while any major work is still under new bus warranty.?
Holly Schools District is comprised of about 70 percent rural roads, utilizes 55 buses and under the lease program rotate 15 new buses every school year.