EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT District, new busing company prepare for school year
Soon, school children will once again shoulder backpacks, board buses and head for the classroom.
The East Penn School Board recently contracted a new busing company, Student Transportation of America, Inc., to provide bus service for the district.
STA's April 15 press release states, "Founded in 1997, STA Inc. is North America's third largest and most progressive provider of school bus transportation services..."
As part of the company's forward looking philosophy, STA is providing an entirely new fleet of mainly propane powered vehicles to accommodate East Penn's busing needs. As part of a green initiative, East Penn is the first district in Lehigh County to employ propane fueled transportation.
Propane burns more efficiently and cleaner than diesel and propane engines warm up more quickly and experience fewer weather related starting problems than those running on more traditional fuels.
For the 2014-2015 school year, the district has contracted to purchase 200,000 gallons of propane at a fixed rate from the Sharp Energy Company. Sharp, which serves Delmarva and Eastern Pennsylvania, produces and distributes its HD5 propane in Pennsylvania.
Dr. Thomas P. Mirabella, East Penn's director of student services, anticipates the district will "...experience cost savings … because of [the] alternative fuel." Additional savings may be realized if the new propane powered bus system qualifies for a federally funded green initiative grant.
The district administration's interest in cost effectiveness is coupled with concern for student well-being.
STA employs state-of-the-art technology to ensure passenger safety. For example, each bus is equipped with three digital cameras. One records activity at the bus doors, another monitors the passenger section and a third shares the driver's view of the road. In addition, through an internal GPS system STA can locate and track buses en route.
Meeting the transportation needs of all East Penn children requires a variety of vehicle types: vans, minivans and buses of several sizes.
STA's 77 seat buses exceed the passenger capacity of any supplied by the previous transportation company.
To ensure students' safety, the district has devoted time over the summer to staging buses in school parking lots in order to develop safe loading and unloading configurations. Furthermore, through route optimization, STA will avoid lengthening students' bus rides and eliminate several old bus routes, thus saving time and money.
Shifting transportation providers involves not only student safety and cost effective issues but also employment considerations.
STA General Manager for Eastern Pennsylvania, Dan Fiorilli emphasizes "We [STA] will be here for a long time...we want to be part of the community." Therefore, this past spring STA hosted a breakfast meeting for East Penn drivers. Key STA team members gave detailed presentations. Attendees received a written explanation of STA's benefits package and were invited to interview for employment with STA.
According to Fiorilli, all personnel assigned to East Penn will be area residents. As drivers, aides and office staff, STA will employ approximately 175 local people.
In addition, STA and Sharp Energy have joined forces to create a comfortable, secure and central hub. STA is renting the Route 100 Leibensperger facility and renovating several of the bus bays to provide a drivers' rest area and meeting space.
Sharp is installing a propane station on the property and providing bus fueling training. Specially trained fuelers, not bus drivers, will infuse propane into the buses.
Scott DeLong, district manager for Sharp, has contacted the Lower Macungie Fire Department. Department members will attend a free Sharp-sponsored presentation on the use and handling of propane. STA employees and members of other area fire departments are invited to attend.
On Aug. 11, East Penn School District residents may inspect one of the new buses. A vehicle will be available for touring at the monthly school board meeting. Board meetings are held 7 p.m. in the administration building at 800 Pine Street, Emmaus.
STA will hold an open house of its renovated facility at 3096 Route 100 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 13. East Penn residents are encouraged to attend and learn about the new student transportation arrangements firsthand.