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School Bus Fleet October, 1999

Great Fleets Across America, Part 1

Clark County School District
Las Vegas, Nev.

Keeping up with one of the fastest-growing enrollments in the county is a challenge more than met by the transportation department at Clark County School District.

Transportation Director Ronald Despenza says his department added 60 routes this year to keep up with the remarkable influx of people into the Las Vegas area. On the equipment side, the district has purchased 74 new buses, growing the fleet to 980 buses.

The operation is run from four terminals, but the district is expanding in that area as well. The construction of two $15 million bus facilities was recently approved. Each will have a capacity of 500 buses. Despenza says the additional facilities may have more capacity than they need, even with the sprawling growth, unless the district decides to reduce the walking distance.

Despite the need for additional drivers each year, the district does not have a driver shortage. “That’s primarily because of our wages and our equipment,” Despenza says. The starting wage for drivers is $12.60 an hour. Even the local transit agency does not pay as well. “We get many of our drivers from them,” he says.

Each new bus has air-power doors, air-ride seats and sound-deadening ceilings. Many of the buses are equipped with the same type of air-conditioning systems that are used in motorcoaches. Despenza says the objective is to keep drivers happy — and safe. “A more relaxed, comfortable driver is a safer driver,” he says. The additional cost of these options is not a significant consideration. “We don’t put a price on the safety of students,” Despenza says.

To provide drivers with a comfort zone at the start of the school year, the district has added two days of dry runs. Not only does this familiarize the drivers with their routes, it also allows them to meet the building administrators. When the driver reaches the school site, he takes a few minutes to introduce himself to the transportation liaison, whether that’s the principal, assistant principal or business manager. “That’s helped out tremendously,” Despenza says.