A small fleet of electric-powered buses could help transport students in Indian Prairie School District 204, based on a proposal discussed at a school board meeting on Monday, April 4.
Ron Johnson, director of support operations, reported First Student, one of Indian Prairie’s transportation contractors, is in the process of procuring the buses through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program.
Five Buses Planned
Johnson said IPSD would be able to pilot five electric vehicles once First Student receives the necessary approvals. First Student is one of two transportation companies that provide busing in IPSD 204 — the other being Richlee.
Board member Supna Jain was one of several officials who voiced support for the proposal during a wide-ranging report on the state of transportation within the district. “I find this super exciting,” Jain said. “It shows our leadership as a school district.”
No timetable was set for the rollout of the electric buses, though Johnson was optimistic specifics on the pilot plan would be unveiled in the near future.
Bus Driver Shortage
During his transportation-related report to the school board, Johnson also provided an update on bus driver staffing. A total of 246 drivers are currently on the roster, and Johnson said at least 18 more drivers are needed to reach the district’s base benchmark.
Bus driver shortages were an issue before the pandemic, Johnson said, and the challenges have only been exacerbated since the onset of COVID-19 two years ago.
While bus driver wages have increased in recent years, Johnson said people who attain a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, are frequently lured away by such companies as Amazon and FedEx. “I don’t see it getting any better in the next five years,” Johnson said. “That’s based on what I see across the country and locally.”
Johnson said he is working with First Student and Richlee representatives to try keeping compensation comparable and in line with what surrounding districts are offering. “We’re all looking at the same pond and fishing in the same pond,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to stay competitive.”
New Bus ETA App Up and Running
At the board meeting, Johnson also discussed the use of the My Stop app. It provides parents and students with real-time data on a bus’ location and estimated time of arrival.
My Stop, which uses GPS data to provide ETAs, is a free service to parents. But Johnson said the app could be prone to glitches and is not yet 100 percent foolproof.
Whenever possible, Johnson said IPSD officials continue to promote the tried and true method of having students outside at least a few minutes before a bus is due to arrive. “We wouldn’t want to be creating unsafe situations where a child is chasing a bus,” Johnson said.
Board member Mark Rising said he could envision My Stop continuing to grow in popularity as more users within the district make the app a regular part of their daily ritual. “This is not to be used to run to the bus when the bus is 30 seconds away,” Rising said. “I hope it is used correctly.”
Johnson said the app could be especially beneficial when there is inclement weather and parents do not want children standing outside for prolonged periods of time while awaiting buses.
For Naperville News 17, Dave Fidlin reports.
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