How to get school district to stop idling buses?
May 9, 2019 5:42 AM   Subscribe

There is a school bus that idles (a person sits in it with the engine running) on my street for about a half hour a day. This pollutes my neighborhood, is bad for the environment, and probably wastes money for the school district. What’s the most effective way to get them to stop doing this?

A post circulating on Facebook offers “make sure your school district doesn’t idle buses” as a way of improving air quality, but I don’t know how to make this happen. Do I email someone? Call? Show up at a school board meeting - is that allowed?
posted by amy.g.dala to Law & Government (18 answers total)
 
If your district is like mine, the district does not actually own or operate the buses. Here, the district contracts out to a private company. Is there anything on the bus indicating who it is operated by? Have you approached and talked to the driver?
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:50 AM on May 9, 2019 [7 favorites]


Go to the website of your school district and look for the "Bus" or "Transportation" tab. There should be a phone number you can call on that page. Let them know.
posted by heathrowga at 5:59 AM on May 9, 2019 [7 favorites]


Some states have laws against idling. Here's a page with some information (you might have better luck searching specifically for your state's laws). If there's a law, you could mention this when calling the transportation agency.
posted by beyond_pink at 6:08 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Where are you located? I know in California, for example, that this is illegal and can be reported to the Air Resources Board.
posted by pinochiette at 6:08 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yes, contact the company that owns the buses. Drivers often have very little control over things like idling, and approaching the driver will just be a situation where you’re scolding someone who can’t do what you’re asking without risking their job.

I’m not sure where you’re located but in California you’re welcome to show up at public school board meetings if you live in the district—community members are considered stakeholders. School boards would probably be interested in a good PR opportunity where they get to look like the good guys fighting pollution For Our Children. (I work for a school district, pls forgive the cynicism.)
posted by corey flood at 6:13 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I’ll second being kind to the drivers. It can be a tough job for not-enough pay on an ordinary day.
posted by childofTethys at 6:19 AM on May 9, 2019 [17 favorites]


Our school district uses Durham for their buses and they've made it pretty clear that they don't want to hear from the public, only from the school. heathrowga has it right - go through your school district to register the complaint. And call them every time it happens.
posted by neilbert at 6:20 AM on May 9, 2019 [2 favorites]


In south Florida that idling is cooling the bus so it’s not a metal box of doom for the kids to ride around in. My kid gets off school and in about fifteen minutes the first kids are dropped off, over an hour later the last are. Then the bus idled for 20-30 min until the next shift lets out (they run an after school program).

We also use community scheduling. So busses run high schoolers early, then elementary kids, then middle schoool. Then high school gets out, first shift, elementary, then middle school first shift, then ms and high school second shift. All with idling gaps to manage traffic and weather issues.
posted by tilde at 6:21 AM on May 9, 2019 [12 favorites]


I’ll second being kind to the drivers. It can be a tough job for not-enough pay on an ordinary day.

And they also catch a world of shit from parents when they're late on their route. I'd cut them some slack as well.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:24 AM on May 9, 2019 [6 favorites]


Seconding just talking to the driver. What if the driver says they want the bus running for heat or AC—do you really want to be that person who calls the school district to try and shut that down?
posted by sallybrown at 6:56 AM on May 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


If the buses are diesel, the drivers and supervisors may believe that they should be idled, for Reasons. This is incorrect. Diesel exhaust stinks, this is bad for kids and the neighborhood. I did some preliminary googling; do more, go to the principal and school board. It may take some bureaucratic effort, but it's worth ending this practice. Good luck.
Diesel Idling Factsheet metrovancouver.org
Diesel Idling Myths and Facts env.nm.gov
posted by theora55 at 8:44 AM on May 9, 2019 [6 favorites]


Thank you for your answers so far. I will try calling as suggested above then escalate from there if needed. Thank you for the resources. I didn’t want to bother the driver because it’s not her fault, she’s doing as she’s told. She may need AC or heat if she’s told to sit there in the neighborhood but she should not be told to sit there in the first place. The idling occurs early in the morning - she seems to get to her first stop a half hour earlier than needed.
posted by amy.g.dala at 9:05 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


she seems to get to her first stop a half hour earlier than needed.

Half an hour earlier than her scheduled departure is not half an hour earlier than needed. She can't plan to arrive on time, because that will mean sometimes she is late, which results in cascading lateness throughout the morning schedule. Arriving early every day is the only way to ensure you're on time on bad days.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:11 AM on May 9, 2019 [17 favorites]


I didn’t want to bother the driver because it’s not her fault, she’s doing as she’s told.

I don’t see how you can know you are correct about what the right outcome is here unless you actually engage with this other person whose routine you’re attempting to change with only limited knowledge. I would grant her the courtesy of having a neighborly conversation with her, in which you ask her about the idling (rather than telling her how she should be doing things).
posted by sallybrown at 9:23 AM on May 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to cool down a school bus. Drive around the block with the windows open. Problem solved. It is possible to add external clean power to cool school busses if heat is an issue. Trucks do this all the time.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 9:26 AM on May 9, 2019


she seems to get to her first stop a half hour earlier than needed.

Depending on what time this is, she may have a half-hour break between runs. Generally school busses are scheduled so that drivers do a group of schools (in my city, this is Middle Schools from 630 - 745) very early, then a second group slightly later (in our case, elementary schools from 745 - 845). She may just need to be somewhere between the drop off time for her first run and the start time for her second.
posted by anastasiav at 9:52 AM on May 9, 2019


Buses and emergency vehicles in my area are frequently idled because of the risk they won't start up again when needed.

Generally this is because their batteries are shot, which is a result of poorly-designed electrical systems (not inherent to the vehicles, but typically add-on gear like radios, lights, etc.) draining the batteries and damaging them. So they barely start at the best of times, and as a driver you don't want to be the person who shuts one off and gets to deal with the fallout from requiring a mobile mechanic to come out with a boost box. "Fuck it, burn diesel" is by far the easiest solution for the driver who just wants to stay out of trouble. (And, truth be told, you can buy literal tons of diesel oil for the price of having a mechanic sort out a dodgy electrical system. Assuming the maintenance shop even has time for looking at vehicles that aren't actually physically broken-down; many municipal shops are stretched thin as it is—they may be the ones telling drivers to just idle the things.)

So it might be best to start off with a query of why the vehicles are being idled, and if that's actually SOP or if that's just the driver choosing to do that, and work from there. If you complain about the idling of that particular vehicle in that particular place, the easiest solution from some administrator's perspective is just going to be to tell the driver to park somewhere else where they'll attract less attention. (In other words, the problem won't be the idling, the problem will be you, complaining about the idling. If they get you to stop complaining, Mission Accomplished.)

But if you're willing to take this on as an issue, maybe you can dig into the underlying reason why the vehicle (and probably others!) are being idled, and figure out what steps need to be taken so that's more broadly not the case. The exact steps are going to depend on whether the buses are municipal assets driven by municipal employees, or municipal driven by contractors, or contractor-owned driven by contractors, etc.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:26 AM on May 9, 2019 [13 favorites]


It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to cool down a school bus. Drive around the block with the windows open. Problem solved. It is possible to add external clean power to cool school busses if heat is an issue. Trucks do this all the time.
So how long do you think it takes to lower and raise all the windows on a school bus? There are maybe 20 windows and 20 seconds apiece times 2 is 800 seconds (that’s thirteen minutes), then you drive around the block which burns more fuel than the thirty minutes of idling. Or you can find someplace to plug into offboard power because trucks? Sure, maybe the OP will let them plug into to their shore power connector.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:46 PM on May 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


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