Gwinnett spends $1 million to upgrade aging school bus fleet

Gwinnett County school board members voted late Thursday to spend about $1 million on 13 new school buses, but officials say they need many more vehicles.

The average age of a Gwinnett school bus is 17 years old, nearly twice the national average, officials said in a recent presentation. Some were made in 1986.

“I’ve just got to start modernizing and updating our fleet,” Daniel Jardine, the school district’s chief operations officer, said in an interview.

The new vehicles will have LED lights and other safety features that Jardine said make the buses worth their average sale price of about $82,000.

Gwinnett has about 1,960 school buses and claims to have the largest district-owned fleet in the nation. In addition to concerns about the aged fleet, Gwinnett officials said in a presentation they’re worried that parts on many of its buses are obselete. One model year of buses had several vehicles with bad engines, Jardine said.

Gwinnett officials said they’d pay for the new buses with fines they’ve collected from motorists who failed to yield to stopped school buses. Gwinnett began placing video cameras on its buses in 2014 to catch those motorists.

Jardine said Gwinnett will spend $24.5 million to buy more school buses from a 1-percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that county voters passed last year to fund school improvements over the next five years. Gwinnett mechanics will maintain the remainder of its fleet as it purchases newer vehicles.

“They may be old, but they’re going to be safe to maintain every day,” Jardine insisted.

Gwinnett is not the only metro Atlanta school system with bus issues. Atlanta Superintendent Meria Carstarphen told the AJC in April that about a third of its school buses have defective engines, leaving students stranded or packed onto overcrowded buses. The district spent $2 million at the end of last year to buy new buses —with different engines —and plans to spend another $16.3 million on transportation in proceeds from its next Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Meanwhile, DeKalb school officials have complained of overcrowding on many of its buses.

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