School buses naturally age when they have been in use for several years since the time of their manufacture. The longer the period that they have been on the roads, the greater will be their wear and tear.
Aging gives rise to maintenance issues. Weather conditions and environmental factors add to the aging of school buses.
Aging generally reduces the reliability and performance of school buses. This consequently causes an impact on the safety of students travelling by these buses.
Hence, timely upgradation of the school transportation fleet is of prime importance. Aging school buses can be repaired, refurbished, retrofitted or replaced to increase operational efficiency.
School authorities can choose the option best suited to them within the framework of their school policies and applicable rules of the local authorities.
Repairing school buses is the first option that is available to school authorities. Before they decide on any other option, it would be wise to check if the vehicle can be put to use for some more time after doing essential repairs.
These repairs can include both breakdown and preventive maintenance. In breakdown maintenance, repairs are confined to rectifying the specific defect to make the vehicle operational again.
In preventive maintenance, the worn out part or component is repaired or replaced before it is totally damaged. This includes routine oil change, and air filter replacements; as also replacement of tires, lamps and other such components.
Starting and stopping the school buses during their daily trips cause frequent mechanical failures as the school bus ages. Frequent repairs cause the buses to remain out of operation very often.
Replacements for some of the faulty parts are hard to obtain as the model becomes outdated. Delay in procuring the replacement parts will result in an increase in repair time.
At times, the cost of replacement parts can be prohibitively high making this option unfeasible.
Hence it is suggested that major repair of aging school buses be taken up only if the school authorities face operational or fund restrictions when considering other more expensive options.
Refurbishment of aging school buses means restoring the bus to its original condition and manufacturer’s standards. Performance specifications stated by the manufacturer should always be adhered to.
Refurbishment involves replacement and service of the existing body parts of the vehicle. Damaged mechanical parts are replaced, and cleaning, servicing and lubrication of parts are carried out.
The components are then tested for smooth operation and necessary adjustments are made. The seats and upholstery are refurbished. Painting of the vehicle is also done.
The advantage of this option is cost saving. Refurbishment can be done over a period of time thus deferring one-time expenditure. Refurbishment is a cheaper option when compared to the cost of a new bus.
This option has disadvantages as it is solely based on the age of the bus. Access to original performance manuals and spare parts will be severely limited.
Some of the parts may be unavailable due to non-production. The high costs of major components are a deterrent to refurbishing aging vehicles.
However, the age of the bus and degree of wear and tear are factors that influence the refurbishment decision. The cost of extending the life of the bus should be compared with the returns that can be generated from school bus operations to ascertain the viability of a refurbishment option.
Retrofitting is an option that can be used to upgrade the school buses that are in a fairly good working condition and can be used for some more time.
It involves the replacement of some of the school bus parts with new and modern components. While retrofitting the buses with new technology devices, compliance with the current governmental regulations needs to be ensured.
This is done to match the performance of the bus with those that have the most recent specifications.This helps to make day-to-day operations easy.
In a mechanical retrofit, for example, a diesel engine of the aging bus may be replaced with the more recent emission-controlled version. This would reduce pollution and control emissions.
Most of the old buses would have to have air-conditioners installed due to changing climatic conditions. Child security features like higher seats, individual seat belts, stop arms and crossing gates are some of the improvements done in a retrofit.
In a technology retrofit, GPS and RFID, video cameras and music systems are added. These gadgets are of great help to both parents and school in monitoring student attendance and behaviour of students in the bus.
Retrofit enhances the safety of the school bus and increases operational efficiency. It will be cheaper to retrofit than to buy a new bus with all the latest features.
Retrofit, though a more expensive option can turn out to be cost-effective in the longer run. The choice is entirely dependent on the age of the bus. It would be wise to weigh all factors and then decide whether it would be worthwhile to spend this extra amount on an already old school bus.
Replacement of an aging bus with a new one is suggested when the school bus has outlived its life. The operational expense of an old bus is always higher than that of a new bus.
When the repair, refurbish and retrofit options are no longer feasible, it is better to replace the aging bus with a new one.
Before embarking on buying a replacement, it would be advisable to assess the current need of the school and the existing governmental regulations.
For example, procuring a big or small bus would depend on the number of students using the bus and the route that it has to service. New features can save a lot of labor for the authorities.
Latest models use less energy and are fuel efficient. Hence, they cost less to operate. Students’ safety aspect is an essential factor to be considered.
Above all, it should ensure that the cost of the new replacement vehicle is justified by a guaranteed return on the investment.
Repair, refurbishment, retrofitting or replacement decision is mainly taken to upgrade the aging school bus fleet. There is no exact vehicle age when the buses can be modified or replaced.
It differs and depends on the wear and tear for each individual bus. All options are based on spending money to save money in the long run.
The decision to adopt any one of these choices should be based on the benefits derived in terms of improved student safety, operating cost efficiency and other environmental factors.