New SC buses roll out, many more still needed

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Students headed out to the bus stop may be boarding one of the nearly 350 new buses in the state's fleet as the new additions continue to be delivered statewide.

According to officials with the Department of Education, nearly 200 of the 342 new buses have been delivered, and they expect all of them to make it to their new districts by the first week in February.

Officials call the new buses a 'shot in the arm' because the last significant purchase for the state fleet was four years ago. From upgraded safety features and air conditioning to increased fuel efficiency, Department of Education Director of Maintenance Mike Bullman says there's no comparing the old buses to the new.

"It means reliability," said Bullman. "It means the fact that education starts with a bus ride, and we can't educate students without getting them to school."

The new buses replace buses from 1984 through 1987 and some in 1988, which amounts to one-third of the special needs fleet. "We've had some tough economic times so these are the first buses we've replaced since 2008," said Fritz Mason, Public Information Coordinator for the Department of Education. Because of the lack of funding, that also means state legislation from 2007 that says, 'the State Board of Education shall implement a school bus replacement cycle to replace approximately one-fifteenth of the fleet each year, resulting in a complete replacement of the fleet every fifteen years' has been overlooked.

"We need more buses," said Mason. "The older buses have to be replaced [and] we're trying to phase out those buses as quickly as we possibly can."

Mason says the new buses helped phase out 7 percent of the outdated buses, but adds more than two-third's of the state's 5,630 buses (including spares) date back to before 1998.

State Superintendent Dr. Mick Zais has requested 34 million dollars for the coming year to continue phasing out old buses. "Really it's that replacement cycle that we need," said Bullman. "It allows us to manage the system and to project and to not spend needless funds on buses that we'd be otherwise replacing."

While the Department of Education waits to see if the legislature comes through, they say they're still embracing the little bit of new they have now. "It feels great," said Bullman. "It means so much to have the new buses. It means so much to the students, the parents, and to the school administrators… it's just a real big plus."

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