UniteGPS – From California to North Carolina, rising fuel costs have created more roadblocks for school districts struggling to sustain student transportation. Between driver testing backlogs, the debilitative driver shortage, and the lingering effects of COVID-19, the skyrocketing price for diesel isn’t making life any easier for communities.

One recent story from KGTV in Poway, Calif. explained how school districts are paying thousands of dollars more to fuel their vehicles in the San Diego area. According to Transportation Director at Poway Unified School District Tim Purvis, it requires between 80 to 200 gallons of gasoline to properly fuel a yellow bus.

Already dealing with immense hiring challenges, the timing of this price inflation couldn’t be any worse for his community.

“This is by far the worst fuel crisis we’ve seen in our price structure at a rapid increase,” said Purvis in the news piece. Compared to the price per gallon for school buses at $2.90 in December, it has now risen to $4.12, a 71 percent hike.

The need to secure enough diesel to last until the end of the year is so serious that the district had to add $110,000 to its budget for “uncertain” economic expenses, which is usually 10 percent of the department’s total budget.

While California uses the most electric school buses in the country, the Poway Unified School District still runs mostly on diesel, currently deploying 120 buses from its 155-vehicle fleet. Still not in operation, the district is also preparing to launch eight electric school buses and will reportedly onboard 20 more in May. 

The severity of the situation will subside once all 28 of these electric school buses start operating, said Purvis, who predicts that the new fleet will reduce fuel costs between 15 and 20 percent.

Fuel costs for school districts

Another story coming out of Wilmington, N.C. covered New Hanover County Schools spending $7,000 more per tank load compared to the beginning of the school year. Although some cities in North Carolina have lifted state and federal taxes on gas, this community takes on those expenses solo. 

COVID-19 protocols have been the district’s “saving grace,” according to Director of Transportation Mark Clawson, who discussed with WECT News 6 how the same measures taken during the pandemic are helping the district reduce fuel costs during today’s tough economic times.

“We pulled out of neighborhoods, we went to community stops; what that did is reduce the number of miles we drive each day by about 30 percent, and we actually saved 40 percent on fuel consumption,” said Clawson in the article. “We’re consuming more dollars, but we’re consuming less fuel each day, and each year, based on the procedures we implemented a year ago.”

New Hanover County Schools is one of many districts across North Carolina that fuels their buses via an underground tank holding approximately 150,000 gallons. District officials say that they have witnessed fuel prices increasing by more than $1,000 a week since the beginning of the academic year.