Friday, 20 October 2017 09:26

Bus fleet changes will result in cost savings for Chinook School Division

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The Chinook School Division's transportation department is looking at ways to operate the bus fleet more efficiently due to budget constraints while at the same time implementing a right-sizing process to reduce operating and maintenance costs.


Kevin Jones, the school division's manager of transportation and facilities, presented the transportation status report at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, Oct. 10.
He noted that the past year has been a year of change for the transportation department due to route amalgamations, staffing adjustments and a fleet right-sizing initiative.
“When we had budget shortfall due to the last budget, what that meant for transportation is a reduction in funding to the transportation department,” he said after the meeting. “So through that we’re looking at different initiatives with routing, staffing and just looking at all kinds of different ways to become more efficient and find some cost saving measures.”
The 2016-17 transportation operating budget was $11,130,659. The transportation department had to deal with a budget cut of about $800,000.
Bus routes were consolidated and reduced in the Shaunavon, Success, Cabri and Hodgeville areas. The number of rural bus routes changed from 121 in 2015-16 to 117 in 2016-17 and to 108 routes in 2017-18.
“We looked at our rural routing and we needed to come up with some route consolidations and look at ways to run more efficiency with our rural routes,” he said.
It means that many students on the consolidated bus routes will be spending more time on the bus before reaching their destinations.
“Route consolidations going from 117 to 108 definitely would increase ride time for many of the students,” he said.
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There have also been changes to the number of urban bus routes in recent years. The total number of urban bus routes fluctuated from 33 in 2015-16 to 34 in 2016-17, and there are 31 routes in 2017-18.
Buses drove a total distance of more than 3.8 million kilometres during the 2016-17 school year and transported 3,349 students. The average duration of a trip on a rural bus route is 64.5 minutes.
The Chinook School Division's goal is to maintain the bus fleet at an age of 10 years old or newer. The entire bus fleet's age is currently seven years.
The fleet right-sizing initiative will help to lower the age of buses and to reduce maintenance costs. The intention is to phase out the use of larger 36-passenger diesel engine buses and to use 19-passenger and 29-passenger gasoline engine buses, which are cheaper to service and their fuel use is more efficient.
“We started right-sizing about a year in advance of even knowing of any type of a funding cut,” he said. “We just started looking at our operations and we knew that some of our rural ridership especially might have eight kids, 10 students on a bus. ... When there are eight kids on a 36-passenger bus it looks very empty, but over and above that from an efficiency perspective, buy a bus that gets better gas mileage.”
An important consideration for the school division was whether the smaller buses will be able to cope with the rural road conditions. The buses are therefore equipped to deal with varying conditions.
“There’s a lot of washboards, with our cattle gates, we’ve got a lot of railway track crossings, chopped up gravel roads,” he said. “So we wanted to make sure the buses can stand up. That was a big consideration as well. They’ve got these heavy-duty kits on them, so that’s belting, mud flaps not only in the wheel wells but underneath the bus around the fibreglass components, around brake lines, around air conditioning lines. We’ve got some materials over those to protect those as well to make them better for the rural roads.”
During the past year the school division sold 10 decommissioned buses through an auctioneering company for $22,678. Sixteen buses were sent to Legacy Bus for resale, but only six were sold for $204,198.
“We’re doing what is called a half life cycle,” Jones explained. “We know that the last third life cycle or the last half life cycle of a bus or a vehicle is more expensive to maintain, especially with buses when they’re on the type of road conditions that the buses have to travel down.”
The difficulty to sell all 16 buses is probably related to the budget restrictions that are experienced by all school divisions in the province.
“We think it could be potentially because other school divisions with their budget cuts are not buying these, and a 36-passenger bus seems to be a little bit more uncommon than either a small one or you get into a 47- or a 53-passenger or a 66-passenger bus,” he said. “Our initiative to purchase the smaller buses to right-size would definitely be impacted if we cannot sell these buses, because we would then need to repurpose our buses that we have and continue to drive them.”
The Chinook School Division's goal is to right-size the bus fleet and make the transition to a fleet of smaller vehicles during a four-year cycle.
“Currently we’re beyond that,” he said. “Right now we’re about 50/50 large bus to small bus and when we started we were at 60 per cent large bus, 40 per cent small. We need to be at a 60 per cent small, 40 per cent large bus out there to complete our right-sizing initiative so we can be most efficient.”
The school division purchased 20 new buses in 2016-17 at a total cost of $1,576,139. Six new 15-passenger vans were purchased for Hodgeville, Vanguard, Val Marie, Cabri, Eastend and Ponteix. A total of 16 schools now have the use of 15-passenger vans.
The development of a bus fueling station at the south side of the Waldeck School yard site has resulted in cost savings for the transportation department. This was done as part of the right-sizing process. The diesel tank was replaced with a gasoline tank and all the buses in the Waldeck area are now using regular gas, which means they do not need to travel to Swift Current to fill up.

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Matthew Liebenberg

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