By Sarah Plummer
Imagine being a school bus driver and coming to a stop at which a student steps out and must cross in front of the bus, across a lane of oncoming traffic.
Imagine you watch a young boy get off and cross, but oncoming traffic has not yielded to the school bus’ flashing lights and stop arm.
You are helpless to do anything but blast your horn as the boy steps across the yellow line and a van flies by, narrowly missing him.
It’s a scene that’s hard to stomach, but can happen any day as demonstrated in a training video Raleigh County Schools Transportation Director Gary Daniel shows incoming bus drivers.
“Every day our buses get passed two or three times and it is very dangerous. We work to plan stops where students don’t have to cross the road and this year we have really stressed the thumbs-up procedure,” he said.
Students get off the bus and walk 10 feet toward the front of the bus on the right edge of the road and wait for the bus driver to give them the thumbs up signal. They cross in front of the bus and stop again to get a second thumbs up before crossing the center line, he explained.
“The transportation department has had a few issues this year,” shared Daniel, “but when you transport more than 9,000 students twice a day over 2 million miles a year, there are going to be a few bumps in the road.”
He shared a video of one of those bumps this school year.
Footage from the bus camera shows bus 84 preparing to pull out at an intersection of W.Va. 3 and U.S. 19.
Across the street a construction worker can be seen shaking a spray can and tossing it to the ground.
The can explodes, flying through the intersection and smashing and breaking the bus windshield.
The video is shocking but indicative of how accidents can occur at any moment.
“Anything can happen any day. We just try to be well-trained and try to do the best we can every day,” he said.
And with a fleet and a schedule as busy as it has, the department has to stay on its toes to keep the buses running.
Daniel said during the 2011-12 school year, Raleigh County Schools Transportation Department used 337,000 gallons of fuel, which cost more than $1 million, across around 500 individual bus routes each day.
The department has 170 regular employees, not counting the more than 30 substitute bus drivers, he said.
Just during October, the 115 buses received regular maintenance in the bus garage, 267 total work orders were complete and 54 tires were changed.
Daniel also noted that the school district received 12 new buses last month that are being fit with two-way radio and video. In the spring, the department will auction off 12 older buses.
Superintendent Jim Brown noted that the West Virginia Department of Education is pushing to run buses on compressed gas to reduce cost, a change-over the county plans to proceed with “cautiously.”
Daniel said buses would need a different motor. While it is possible to retro-fit buses to run on compressed gas, it is cost-prohibitive. The county would also need to have access to compressed gas stations across the state on field trips, he said.
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