School buses in Marion County travel many miles on country roads taking students to and from school.
Transportation director Bob Mueller of Centre said older buses had just one computer that kept the engine running but additional technology required since 2007 to control emissions makes the newer buses more vulnerable to breakdowns. He said emissions systems are mounted on the underside of buses.
Transportation directors Lee Leiker at Marion and Karen Goossen at Hillsboro said they haven’t seen any increased problems due to computerized emissions systems.
The biggest difference between those districts and the Centre district appears to be that they store buses inside, whereas Centre parks buses outside. Leiker said the temperature in the bus barn is maintained at 55 degrees in winter, so the buses’ diesel engines don’t have to start cold.
“That is probably our greatest advantage,” Leiker said. “Starting diesel engines cold is hard on them.”
He said Marion keeps its buses a long time. In fact, one bus had to be sold because of a state regulation that buses can’t be kept beyond 25 years.
Goossen is in her third year as transportation director at Hillsboro. She said she hasn’t seen problems relating to diesel emissions.
“We run busses longer than we used to,” she said. “We run them up to 150,000 miles.”
The district’s oldest bus was purchased in 1999.
“It took quite a few years to perfect the system,” Mueller said. “Newer buses are designed to run highway speeds. They aren’t made for stop and go situations. They are designed to re-burn carbon so it doesn’t go back into the engine, but they have to run at higher speeds to make it work. I think these newer buses won’t run for 12 to 15 years anymore.”
He said emissions systems provide numerous sensors for alerting drivers to problems. When a sensor lights up, the bus is taken to a mechanics shop and the engine is connected to a computer to diagnose the problem. Along with that comes a repair bill.
“The newer buses don’t haul kids any better, they’re just more complicated,” Mueller said.
He acknowledged that Hillsboro and Marion do have an advantage with inside parking. He said buses parked inside also retain their color.
Centre’s transportation building has room for two buses inside a couple of service bays but the others sit outside. Mueller estimated it would cost $100,000 to construct a bus barn and another $100,000 if it were to be insulated and heated.
“The district doesn’t have that kind of money,” he said.
Marion and Hillsboro districts both acquired large buildings formerly owned by businesses.