Thanks to computer software from companies like Schenectady’s Transfinder, school districts and the companies they hire to provide bus transportation can maximize their efficiency when it comes to route planning and actual operations. Many school districts use such software regarding the former, but when it comes to the latter, they and their private contractors could do better.
A state education law on the books since 2007 prohibits school buses from idling when they’re waiting to pick up or discharge passengers. That includes when they’re hanging out on some quiet side street before making their first pickup of the day, waiting outside a gym during a basketball game, etc.
School districts are further obligated to inform their drivers about the law at the start of each school year, monitor their compliance with it and compile reports, keeping them on file for six years; but we suspect a good many school districts don’t bother and the state Education Department never asks them about it.
And it’s fairly clear — from the anecdotal evidence, anyway — that the law is routinely ignored. While some schools have erected “no idling” signs in their driveways, they don’t seem to enforce the rule with much vigor. And they pay even less attention to buses that are off school property.
Districts with private contractors pass the buck in that direction, but the law is quite clear: It’s the school’s responsibility. And even if such districts aren’t directly responsible for buying the buses’ fuel, the cost is surely built into every contract they sign. Those contracts would be lower if less fuel was wasted.
As Transfinder’s vice president of marketing and communications said in Thursday’s Gazette story, the diesel fuel used in school buses is very expensive, and even a small change can save thousands of dollars. But cost savings are just one of several reasons for enforcing the no-idle rule: Diesel fumes contribute to global warming. They also cause cancer, asthma and heart disease; and they foul the water. Moreover, idling school buses not only stink, they’re noisy.
So while route-mapping software is a good way for school districts to trim transportation costs (which consume 5.7 percent of the state’s education budget), pay more attention to fuel wasted by idling buses would help out, too.