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Manteca Unified A+ bus safety
Mechanics, drivers have student safety in mind
Manteca Unified has a fleet of 74 school buses. - photo by HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

It’s tough if you are a student riding a Manteca Unified school bus to play hooky from school or lollygag after getting off the school bus in the afternoon.
That’s because there is an app that can trip you up.
The district’s Z Pass card issued to students is scanned when they enter and exit buses. It logs data that parents can track in real time from various devices including their smartphone.
It’s is just one part of the district’s ongoing efforts to make transporting students as safe as possible.
But keeping on top of safety when it comes to students, driver training, and equipment isn’t all that the transportation department is tasked with. Air quality compliance is another.
It’s not too far-fetched that one day down the road Manteca Unified students could take a bus to school powered by compressed gas made from apple cores, banana peels, and pizza crusts they tossed into the orange cart in the cafeteria a few days prior.
Manteca Unified has had exploratory discussions with the City of Manteca about having its bus fleet powered from the city’s food waste to fuel program that is moving toward a 2019 implementation. While it’s not in the cards for the foreseeable future, it is an option that the district in keeping on the table should ever tightening San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control rules make it viable.
Meanwhile the school district has met all current air quality standards.
It is part of the transportation department’s ongoing efforts to stay on top of everything from safety to air quality standards to the point they have put changes in place way ahead of the curve.
On any given day 1,838 students ride a Manteca Unified school bus. The district has a fleet of 74 buses.
A typical 81-passengr school bus costs $158,949. The special needs buses can cost between $127,000 to $136,133 depending upon seating capacity that ranges from 20 to 28 as well as wheelchair capacity.
Buses are driven up to 25,000 miles annually to and from school with accumulative miles coming in an 869,000 miles last school year. That’s the equivalent of driving from San Francisco to New York and back 149.7 times.
School buses typically have a life of 25 to 30 years. Underscoring how well buses are maintained by district mechanics is the fact some buses in daily service have been on the road since 1995.
Mechanics thoroughly inspect all buses every 45 days. That is in addition to spot checks by the California Highway Patrol motor carrier inspector. The CHP also certifies all buses every 13 months.
Every September the district conducts bus evacuation drills at the 30 Manteca Unified school sites when the bus arrives at the campus to drop students off.
Drivers are mandated to have 10 hours of training per year. They must take a renewal class for their license and certificate every five years.
Long before the state mandated school bus alarms in the back of buses that force the drivers to walk to the back to shut them off when the engine is turned off to force a visual inspection to make sure students aren’t left on the bus, Manteca Unified had the alarms and protocol in place.
The law was adopted after 19-year-old autistic student Paul Lee of Whitter died after being left for hours on a hot school bus on a 90-degree day in Southern California.
The alarm is in addition to bus drivers being required to pull over to a safe location after the last students is dropped off at the end of a bus run. They then have to do a visual walk-through inside the bus to make sure no students are on board.
Then when the bus is returned to the district yard and before they can disembark, drivers perform a student check with a Zonar hand-held device. The device is used to scan various students “check asset tags.” Once scanned, the information is logged in electronically.
Manteca Unified has a long history of staying on the cutting edge of bus safety.
Back in the 1990s, they were the second school district in the state to equip buses with flashers designed specifically to make them more visible in fog.
The overall bus fleet is in compliance with the San Joaquin Air Quality Control District diesel particulate filter requirement that went into effect at the start of 2016. The district had to retrofit 16 buses in 2015 at a cost of $238,000. The district obtained an air district grant to cover the cost.
All of the district’s buses run on diesel.
The district has considered other fuel options such as propane. They will continue to monitor changing air quality requirements. Should the district in the future opt to switch new buses they purchase to compressed gas, the city’s food waste to fuel fueling station will be located just over a mile away at the municipal wastewater treatment plant should that be considered a viable option.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, email