The Canyons District Transportation Department is akin to the U.S. Postal Service: Neither rain, snow, sleet nor hail will keep them from their appointed rounds.
Despite the rough recent road conditions that correspond with Utah's blustery winter months, the employees in the CSD Transportation Department have made sure that children arrive at school safe, secure and ready to start the school day.
“With little fanfare, and under sometimes-difficult circumstances, our bus drivers and dispatchers provide an invaluable service,” says Dr. Bob Dowdle, the Assistant Superintendent who works with Director Bruce Young to oversee CSD’s transportation services. “On mornings when the roads are slick and icy, they do their jobs without complaint. They truly are the unsung heroes of our District on snowy, cold days.”
Regardless of the weather, there are many things the transportation department does — from maintaining some 200 buses with the latest in technology to drawing bus routes to driving roughly 1,004,000 miles in a school year. But for its myriad responsibilities, the department’s No. 1 priority is simple: Get children from here to there in safety. “Our main concern is to transport children from home to school and school to home safely,” said Young. “That’s the first thing that transportation does.”
As simple as that charge is, the logistics of transporting about 15,600 students every day can be complicated — especially in the winter months — and there are many forces at work to make it happen.
First, there are the drivers. Every employee in the transportation department, including Young and his office employees, has a Commercial Driver's License. That way, anyone can fill in if a regular driver calls in sick at the last minute. But aside from having a CDL, the bus drivers of Canyons District have a variety of qualifications. Some have high school diplomas and GEDs, but others have bachelor’s and master’s degrees. One driver even has a Ph.D. in sociology.
Some days the drivers start working at 5:30 a.m. to take kids to school, then they make another run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for younger students, then another from 2:30-5:30 p.m. for the end of the day — and that’s not to mention field trips. On days when snow is falling, Young makes rounds in his truck at 4:30 a.m. to advise the superintency on whether the roads are too difficult to traverse in order to start school at the regular time.
Young estimates that CSD’s buses go on about 4,000 field trips in a nine-month school year, and they use about $120,000 worth of diesel and compressed natural gas per month. Keeping the buses cleaned and working is an essential part of the department’s goal to transport children safely. CSD’s largest buses hold 84 passengers, are 40 feet long and weigh 32,000 pounds. Despite the fact that the buses are so big, and painted bright yellow, accidents are sometimes caused throughout the year by other drivers who are distracted. Almost all of the repairs to broken buses — including small repairs — are completed in the District’s Bus Barn, saving the District money. Also, Dowdle says that, thanks to the diligence of the department’s employees, the number of accidents is low — and the cost per accident has steadily declined.
The buses are fitted with the latest in technology to ensure the safety of both the bus driver and children on the bus. Every bus has four cameras with audio recording and a two-week-long memory on board to monitor what takes place on the bus. The buses are also equipped with a Zonar system, which relays information about the bus’ location, speed, engine health and exactly what time it arrived and left each bus stop — in real time. This year, each bus is also being fitted with a panic button that drivers can use in emergency situations.
As the drivers and buses are constantly moving, the employees at the transportation department make up the final, essential part of keeping children safe. Mechanics routinely inspect and keep the buses working, dispatch workers communicate with drivers to provide valuable information, and other employees conduct frequent trainings to make sure drivers are current on all necessary certifications. Young himself occasionally follows behind drivers to make sure they obey traffic laws, such as stopping at train tracks. And every year, the routing department organizes a complex system of bus routes and bus stops, taking into consideration boundary changes, grade reconfiguration and state law. Together, each employee works hard to make sure that while each facet of the transportation department functions smoothly, the responsibility to keep children safe is always their first priority.