The Jones County Transportation Department has purchased a new ramp bus, making it easier for students in wheelchairs to get on and off the bus, even though COVID-19 makes the situation on buses more difficult.
Wendy Vaughn, director of transportation, said she is thankful for the new bus and how it makes things more convenient.
“We have new Collins buses, which are ramp buses instead of lift buses,” she said. “They are much smaller so if we need to go into a student’s driveway, we can. We now have two of these ramp buses."
She said the school system was able to purchase a ramp bus and a regular full size bus over the summer. She said the only downside to a ramp bus is the limited amount of seats on the bus.
“A lift bus extends out the back of the bus and drops to the ground,” the director said. “There’s a lot of mechanical problems with that kind of bus. The ramp allows us to get the students out of the weather even if it decides to not work. We can use a wrench to get it back in if we have to.”
Vaughn said they have three other Collins buses that are considered 29 passenger buses, but with wheelchairs on the buses, that’s cut down the number of passengers. She said that leaves about eight seats on those buses.
“A regular bus allows for 72 passengers. With our special needs students, sometimes we do a lot of spacing out for those students. It all depends on their needs on the bus. A lot goes into getting these children where they need to go,” Vaughn said.
The director said they would love to replace the lift buses with all ramp buses, but it would cut down on the students they can transport. She said they would like to have at least one more ramp bus.
“We’ve done a good job of maintaining and keeping up our regular education fleet. We have 15 buses that run on gasoline and have air conditioning that we bought two years ago. Jones County as a whole in the school system has had a facelift,” she said.
Vaughn said she hopes within the next five years they can have air conditioning on every bus. She said she understands how miserable it is not to have air conditioning, so she’s working on getting that done.
She said getting parts in for the buses has been delayed due to COVID-19, especially any parts that are made mostly in China. She said getting gloves and other cleaning supplies has been difficult to get, too.
“In the beginning we were looking at having one child in every other seat, so we would only have 12 or 24 kids on a 72 passenger seat bus,” the director said. “We looked at so many different scenarios on cleaning to make it safe for the students and drivers.”
Vaughn said they were able to come up with a solution for the cleaning and each bus is equipped with its own supply. She said they have to wipe down all the high points every morning and every afternoon. She said at the end of the day after the bus is cleaned up, it’s sprayed with a hospital grade disinfectant and sits overnight. She said once a week the bus gets an electrostatic spray.
She said despite all the challenges with transportation, she enjoys it very much. She said they have a shortage of school bus drivers right now, so she hopes to see more people apply because it’s a rewarding career.
“We are the ones they see every morning and the last they see every afternoon,” Vaughn said. “We give them a smile even though we wear a mask. I want them to remember me as their bus driver.”