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Policy Committee Highlights Hurdles Within School Transportation

  • 5/3/2023 3:35:00 PM
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Policy Committee Highlights Hurdles Within School Transportation

HARRISBURG – House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Joshua D. Kail (R-Beaver/Washington) held a hearing titled “Effective School Transportation for Our Drivers and Our Students” to discuss the obstacles the school transportation community faces.

“One of the most important factors of education is ensuring our students can get to and from school safely,” said Kail. “Learning of the barriers these companies are facing gives us a better understanding of what we need to do in Harrisburg to alleviate these pressures.”

As the years pass by, the Commonwealth continues to experience a bus driver shortage due to staggering regulations that steer potential candidates away from pursuing that field. According to Aaron Sepkowski, president of Pocono Transportation, this is something the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) is actively trying to address.

“The FMCSA took action intended to enhance school bus driver recruiting and retention by waiving CDL skills testing requirements that tended to intimidate and discourage school bus driver candidates,” said Sepkowski. “The waiver waives pre-trip testing of the engine compartment known as the ‘under the hood’ testing requirement. Testing ‘under the hood’ requires an applicant to have knowledge of components such as the water pump, alternator, air compressor, as well as oil and coolant levels, among other components that a school bus driver typically does not need to have knowledge of to operate a school bus.”

A nationwide debate is ongoing about the pros and cons of replacing fuel-powered vehicles with electric ones. Outside of environmental impacts, another significant portion of that discussion deals with cost. DJ Frye, owner of Frye Transportation Group, mentioned finances alone would be a significant hurdle to overcome if mandates of electrification to bus fleets were in effect.

“Electric school buses can cost up to four times that of a typical diesel school bus,” said Frye. “They may cost up to $400,000 per bus, and that doesn’t consider the infrastructure costs. The price of AC chargers ranges from $2,000 to $5,000 and DC chargers between $20,000 and $75,000, which doesn’t include the cost of installation.”

Todd Rittenhouse, fleet manager of Rittenhouse Bus Lines, discussed logistical issues with the electrification of bus fleets, specifically to the Commonwealth. He mentioned a study found cold weather can reduce electric vehicle range by as much as 41%. Couple that with terrain differences and lagging infrastructure, Rittenhouse believes deployment of these buses would be difficult to maintain.

“Electric school buses have an average range of between 100 and 155 miles per charge, which is dependent on terrain, how the driver drives and the particular routes,” said Rittenhouse. “Clean diesel, by comparison, has an average range of over 600 miles per tank of fuel. If you have a long-distance school field trip or sporting event, this may preclude the use of an electric school bus due to their limited range and the lack of availability of remote electric school bus charging infrastructure.”

“Thank you to the testifiers for providing thorough insight on the issues facing the school transportation community,” said Kail. “Workforce shortage is a clear issue in Pennsylvania across all industries. We must do more to encourage people to settle in Pennsylvania and fill the family sustaining jobs we have available. Easing unnecessary and burdensome regulations is crucial step to meet that end.”

You can see the press release online here.

You can watch the full hearing by clicking here.

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