Apache Junction district has 2 new free school buses, with 3 more coming

One of the new buses at the Feb. 23 Lost Dutchman Days Parade in Apache Junction. (AJUSD)

Fortune seems to be rolling into the Apache Junction Unified School District bus barn with the addition of two new buses and three more on the way.

The windfall was a combination of hard work and hard times.  The buses are part of a settlement plan from the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust.

Qualifying districts were selected based on strong need such as buses that had over 100,000 miles, were 15 years old or more and served a student population where 60 percent or more of the students were on the free or reduced school breakfast or lunch program.  AJUSD was one of 112 districts selected to receive 285 new buses.  Each district could have up to 10 percent of their fleet replaced.

While the new buses are a welcome addition, it is only a drop in the oil pan toward solving the problems of the aging fleet.  AJUSD has 39 regular education buses, 11 special needs buses, six vans and two trip buses.  According to Lori Jioras, transportation director, 97 percent of AJUSD’s fleet has over 130,000 miles and 90 percent of the vehicles are 12 years or older.  These figures do not include our new buses.

“Safety is a top concern for us.  When you have a fleet full of older buses, repair costs start getting higher and the chances are greater for on-the-road breakdowns.  We don’t want kids on the side of the road waiting for another bus.  That isn’t safe,” Ms. Jioras said.

At present, (not including the new buses) the breakdown for fleet mileage is:

  • Seven vehicles  200,000-plus miles
  • 16 vehicles 160,000-200,000 miles
  • 19 vehicles, 150,000-160,000 miles
  • 10 vehicles,  140,000-150,000 miles
  • Three vehicles, 130,000-140,000 miles
  • Three vehicles, 17,000-60,000 miles

Ms. Jioras said another issue with the current fleet is that 75 percent of the buses don’t have a working camera system. The cameras are so old the company no longer manufactures replacement parts.

“We need working cameras not only for discipline issues, but also for training opportunities for our drivers,” said Ms. Jioras.

“Another goal is to equip our buses with GPS to help with routing and to avoid unnecessary delays.  We are looking for a system that will incorporate a parent app where parents can track their student’s bus location on their phone and receive information about when the bus will arrive at their stop.”

Ms. Jioras joined AJUSD in May 2018 and has been actively working on improving the transportation department.  The staff receives many training opportunities and Ms. Jioras is evaluating systems to improve routing efficiency, as well as looking out for possible grants to help stretch her lean budget.

Although there are physical and budgetary roadblocks, Ms. Jioras remains optimistic.

“We all know that transportation can at times be a challenge for everyone,” says Ms. Jioras, who hails from Missouri, the “Show Me” state.  “We have a really great team here.  We are all committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure our students have a safe and uneventful experience while on the bus.”

Editor’s note: Sally Marks is AJUSD’s public information officer.







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