By Samuel Stait, Reporter at Large – February 2, 2021

It was recently reported that the Del Norte Unified School District was
to order two new seventy two passenger electric powered school buses to
add to its current fleet of diesel powered buses.  The cost in total for
the two buses, just under a million dollars of previously budgeted
money.  I have to wonder after last summer’s interest in floating a new
facilities bond by the district, just how they have become quite so
flush with cash for this outlay.  Leaving that aside, there are a few
questions that need to be asked during this time where the need for
additional buses to field and maintain is somewhat troubling.  The
District’s very own transportation director, Derrick Campbell admits
that bus ridership is down and one route has been totally eliminated, so
why the need for two additional buses?  And what is it about electric
buses at a breath taking cost of nearly a half million dollars a piece
that makes this investment so worthy?

Within the article is a long list of benefits, electric to diesel, that
remind me of the words and pictures on a slick, colorful, and wordy
advertising brochure used to highlight a product to its best advantage. 
The problem is for many hyped products is that they very rarely live up
to the hype.  Range, durability, cost savings are generally used by the
company from experience in ideal conditions, and can rapidly decline
when those conditions are not met.  In rainy, windy, Del Norte County
will the buses operate as advertised.  Not very likely.  Will the
maintenance be that much cheaper?  Not very likely.  Will the buses’
batteries last that long or go as far as advertised?  Not likely.  Has
the district been able to talk to people who have purchased these
vehicles and used them for a reasonable amount of time?  How have they
fared?   It does not sound as though those vehicles have been around for
that long, so what’s up with the sudden interest in electric buses?  Is
this our local school district trying to be environmentally conscious at
a time when it should be more fiscally conservative?  What next, solar
panels?

In case the school district’s transportation director is unaware, nearly
all public transportation is heavily subsidized.  Sometimes up to
seventy five percent of its total operating costs.  Public
transportation would cease to exist if it had to pay its own way
electric powered vehicles or otherwise.  The school district currently
has sufficient buses to provide service on every route that it
maintains.   Why, exactly it the district adding yet more potential
problems to its already overflowing state.  Is it because it is new and
bright and shiny?  Is it being socially responsive?  What is going on
here, spending nearly a a million dollars because it is budgeted? 
Somebody help us here.  Please explain in some sort of coherent fashion
where the smart thinking is here.

5 thoughts on “School District Wasting Money for a Change?”
  1. As a school bus mechanic for the district I can assure you that my team and I are more than capable of maintaining the electric buses. We get trained on new technology as it emerges such as multiplex wiring and the aftertreatment systems on our diesel buses. We are actually ahead of the curve because we communicate with technicians from other districts who are already running these buses. The safe transportation of our county’s children is our first, last, and only priority.

    1. Welcome to the conversation Mr. Dunn. Your input is most welcome. There remain a couple of questions which you may be able to help clarify matters. The first being, if as you have said the district does not need simply to replace two buses in the current fleet but up to one third of the entire fleet. Why would the district spend such an exorbitant amount on electric buses when diesel buses could have been purchased in numbers that would retire more of your aging fleet? The other thing that troubles me is that I am sure you are aware of the fact that newer buses, diesel or electric are equipped with growing numbers of electronics which have proven themselves troublesome in many newer vehicles. While those problems are generally not immediately evident, they have presented themselves to be particularly problematic in electric vehicles. Is this of some concern? You say you have discussed maintenance issues with other technicians, yet your transportation director has implied that these buses are of recent development. How is it possible? Has he mispoken?

  2. Another reason to question the purchase is whether or not the district’s bus garage has mechanics trained for electric vehicle servicing. Even Coast Auto does not have such trained mechanics as I found out when inquiring about buying a Chevrolet Bolt.

      1. I am aware of who Mr Dunn is and his thirty years of diesel mechanic experience. My questions to him are if the district needs eight or nine buses to be retired, why would the district buy two expensive electric buses when they may have been able to replace half their 1993’s with less expensive diesel buses. And, if he was aware, which I’m sure he is, that newer buses have a fair amount of electronic controls which can be very troublesome very early on in a vehicle’s life. I have read Mr. Dunn’s comment as well as several on Facebook and those questions remain unanswered.

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