Mechanical breakdowns partly to blame for cancellations
“They run well,” said Matthew Hnatuik, the company's service manager. “They rarely break down.”
That's in contrast to newer school buses, which are more energy-efficient and better for the environment, but tend to break down in the extreme cold.
The way the school buses are constructed was changed after strict new emissions standards were brought in by the government starting in 2007.
The Sudbury Student Services Consortium, which provides school bus transportation to all four local boards, said the new buses have played a role in the bus cancellations last year and this year.
In the last school year, there were seven school bus cancellations — a record for the consortium.
So far this school year, school buses have been cancelled three times. School buses were also cancelled three times in both 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.
One of last year's school bus cancellations was due to the extreme cold — a first for the consortium.
Buses were also cancelled during the morning of Jan. 22 this year because of the extreme cold, although buses did run in the afternoon, once temperatures had warmed up.
Despite the reliability issues with newer bus models, most bus cancellations over the past few years were due to inclement weather such as freezing rain and snow, said Sudbury Student Services Consortium executive director Renée Boucher.
Last year just happened to be a bad year, she added.
The issue of school bus cancellations has drawn the ire of parents and school board trustees alike, who have voiced their confusion about the reasons they've been cancelled.
Hnatuik, whose company is the largest school bus operator contracted by the Sudbury consortium, explained the buses almost always start in extreme cold temperatures, as they're kept plugged in.
But a number of different issues do crop up.
A bus might start in extreme cold, he explained, but not warm sufficiently on the inside to be comfortable.
In older buses, about 30 per cent of engine heat is lost from the tail pipe, but that number is increased to about 70 per cent in the newer buses.
This “makes it a lot harder to get that heat into the cooling system to heat the cab and air,” he said.
The control sensors installed in the newer buses also don't deal well with the cold and can cause mechanical breakdowns.
“With the colder temperatures, those sensors can get frosted up, and start almost getting confused,” Hnatuik said.
That 98 per cent of Leuschen's fleet runs on diesel, which gels up when temperatures reach -40 C, is another issue, though it can be minimized to an extent by using high-quality, winter fuel.
While the older buses might be more reliable, Hnatuik said operators are required to retire buses from their fleet after 12 years.
While Leuschen — which puts about 210 school buses on the road every day — often receives phone calls from parents frustrated by cancellations, Hnatuik said student safety is of the utmost importantance.
No one wants their children stranded in a frozen school bus at -30 or -40 C, he said.
“Children are our job — to get them safely to school and home every day,” Hnatuik said. “If the weather doesn't co-operate and doesn't permit us to do that, I agree ... that the buses should be taken off the road for that day.”