County Schools Transportation Division is finding ways to combat higher fuel charges

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Cullman County Schools bus (Cullman Tribune file photo)

CULLMAN, Ala. – As fuel prices continue to surge, it’s leaving many to question how it’s impacting rural bus routes. Recently, The Tribune reached out to the Cullman County School System to find out how prices are affecting daily pick-ups and drop-offs.

Transportation Director Jeff Harper said the increase is having large impact on the systems operating costs.

“Our fuel prices are dependent upon the current fuel and gas prices just like all other organizations. As fuel prices soar, so do our operating costs,” Harper said. 

One of the more surprising facts concerned the amount of county routes traveled each day.

“Cullman County operates 108 regular morning and afternoon routes,” he said. “We also operate vocational routes from each high school, different shuttle routes for individual needs at some schools, along with field trips, sports and other extracurricular activities from all campuses.”

While it may seem like a high number of routes, the number of miles for each is quite low.

“Mileage varies on trips depending on student numbers and distances to individual school campuses. Most route buses average at least 50 miles per day,” he said.

When asked what measures were put in place to help lower costs, Harper answered that it’s a mixture of strategic planning and constant review of those routes. 

“The Cullman County School System works tirelessly to ensure that the most efficient usage of our buses is achieved. Our buses are parked as close to the beginning starting point and ending point of each route to curtail wasted miles to the first student pickup and last student drop off,” he said. “Routes are reviewed regularly to ensure the best possible route with regard to safety, convenience to the community, and driving distance, is maintained.”

One way to lower costs, according to Harper, is to purchase fuel in bulk, a practice that’s been in play for a while. 

“The campuses have 6000-gallon storage tanks at each site that allow for the fuel to be purchased in bulk. The buses do not have to travel to an offsite location to fuel the buses. This saves fuel as well and also allows us to purchase fuel in bulk at a reduced rate,” he said. 

Harper broke down the per route cost increase over the past month. 

“A school bus averages 5 MPG. We travel 4300 miles a day on average. That’s 86000 miles in a 20 day school day month. The last month fuel cost rose 75 cents per gallon.  That’s a net increase in fuel cost for one month of $12,900.00,” he said.

When asked at what point fuel would hit a price where routes would have to be cutback or reduced, Harper said he’s hopeful no such actions will ever need to take place.

“I am hopeful that the transportation of our students will not be detrimentally affected by rising fuel prices. We transport half of all of our students that are enrolled in Cullman County Schools,” he continued. “Our parents and community depend on the service that we provide. I am hopeful that the State Department, or the federal govt., would step up and provide help in the form of funding before transportation would be reduced or stopped.”

Wrapping up, Harper wanted parents and others to know he’s understands the strain rising costs puts on everyone; however, he and the rest of the school system’s transportation division is doing all they can to keep the buses running.

“It is certainly a tough time for all. Rising costs in all areas of our life has certainly put a strain on everyone’s budget,” he said. “I want to assure you that the Cullman County Schools, and specifically the Transportation Department, will do all we can to maintain a safe, effective and effective usage of our transportation funding.”

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