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Posted: 04/23/14

Above, Frank Rydquist, Romeo Community Schools transportation director, stands with three of the district's 12 new buses that arrived this month. Below, seats in the new buses have stronger framing and higher backs for improved safety. The buses were purchased through the $5.1 million bus bond in November.

(Observer photo by Chris Gray)

RCS boosts safety with
12 new buses, cameras

Observer Staff Writer
      The first dozen of 54 new school buses have rolled into Romeo, one of which will check if other drivers are behaving.
       Romeo Community Schools received 12 new buses last week that were purchased through the voter-approved $5.1 million bus bond.
       The 12 buses were approved to be purchased on Nov. 18 for $2.4 million to begin replacing 32 of the oldest buses. The district ordered four transit buses, four special needs buses and four 71-passenger conventional buses used for everyday transport. All models are 2015.
       The new buses hit the road last week, transporting students on regular routes and field trips. Frank Rydquist, transportation director, said the drivers and students have already noticed the difference.
       "We were at Amanda Moore and the kids were just all smiling and happy," he said. "We start their day off, and if we can start it off good they have a good day."
       As part of the new buses, the district is testing a stop-bar camera on the exterior of a transit bus that will catch drivers in the act of disobeying bus protocols. When a stopped school bus displays flashing lights and a stop-bar, drivers are to wait until the bus moves or the light is off before continuing.
       The device will capture several pictures of vehicles and their license plates as they drive past the stopped bus. Superintendent Nancy Campbell said the district is partnering with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office to pilot the camera program, meaning it will send the images to the sheriff's office.
       "We don't want anyone to get a ticket, but we want to keep our students safe," Campbell said.
       Campbell said the camera is on the bus that handles the 26 Mile Road route with Curtis Street and other stops. She said the device is only $300, so if it's successful, more could be on the way.
       "It is definitely needed in our high-traffic areas," she said. "The goal here is safety."
       Aside the stop-bar camera, the district will install cameras within the buses to resolve and log any incidents with students.
       Rydquist said safety has also improved with higher backs and stronger framing for the seats and the elimination of metal trip bars in the aisle. Improved emission standards have reduced fumes by 90 percent.
       He said the buses are quieter than their predecessors, so now the drivers can better hear what students are doing and noise levels are reduced in the neighborhoods.
       "The kids have even mentioned how much quieter it is to the drivers," Rydquist said.
       Laurie Kisovic, dispatcher and a driver, said the new buses handle much better and offer a smoother ride compared to the old vehicles.
       "The air in the buses is much cleaner because of the emissions," she said. "It's a much better ride as far as the suspension, even going down the dirt roads."
       Rydquist said with board approval, he will order the next round of replacement buses in May with the hope of receiving them in October. He said the goal is to spread out the purchases so the district doesn't need to replace all of them at once.
       "They won't have to go through what I had to with all these congested buses from the `98 period," he said.
       Rydquist said the old buses were auctioned off, fetching a price of about $14,000 each. He said replacing the buses reduces maintenance costs and will standardize the district's fleet. The district spent about $300,000 a year on maintenance prior to the bus bond.
       The bus bond will levy .07 mills, or $0.07 for every $1,000 on a home's taxable value in its first year. The bond will average .47 mills during its lifetime. The bond was approved with 58.5 percent of the votes in favor of the millage.

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