Old school buses that have proved prone to fires finally are off the road.
The S.C. Education Department has retired more than 1,900 buses built in 1995-96 as of Jan. 1, the department says.
Those aren’t the oldest models in the state’s 5,600-bus fleet. Some state-owned buses, which ferry about 350,000 S.C. students to and from school this year, are as much as 30 years old. But the 1995-96 buses, now off the road, proved particularly prone to bursting into flames.
“The 1988 models are old. They’re not pretty. But they are some of the most reliable in the fleet,” said Education Department spokesman Ryan Brown. “They have no mechanical or structural issues.
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“These (1995-96) models have significant mechanical and structural issues.”
Those 1995-96 models have been particularly tricky for the state because they have engines in the rear. The engine location and other design features make the buses difficult to inspect and repair, education officials said, requesting money for replacements.
South Carolina has seen 80 bus fire incidents in the past 10 years, Brown said.
There have been no mechanical-related fires this school year. However, in January 2018, dozens of students were evacuated from a 23-year-old bus that caught fire between stops in Anderson District 5. Two months earlier, a driver in Greenville County pulled over and got 29 students off a school bus as smoke and flames began spilling out of the engine.
At one point, the state’s aging school-bus fleet was declared the oldest, publicly operated bus system in the nation.
Now, the department will start phasing out more older buses. This year, the Education Department is asking the Legislature for an additional $5 million in recurring money plus $40 million in one-time money to replace another 700 buses that are older than the models just retired, including 420 of the 1988 buses.
The money also would allow the Education Department to add another 71 new buses to its fleet. Those buses would be used in counties seeing the most growth, including Richland, Brown said.
“Buses that are 20-plus-years old cost 49 cents a mile in fuel, maintenance and parts,” he said. “Newer ones only cost 22 cents a mile, and we can use those savings to buy more buses.”
Besides saving money, the newer buses come with more modern amenities.
“The new ones all come equipped with air conditioning and GPS capability,” Brown said.
In total, the state has spent $165 million updating its bus fleet over the last three years.
LGBT group dings S.C. for foster care waiver
The Human Rights Campaign gay rights group has labeled South Carolina a “high priority” state for action based, in part, on a waiver that allows religious foster-care programs to deny service to same-sex couples.
In its annual report ranking states on their LGBT-friendliness, the group calls South Carolina a “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equality.” Human Rights Watch cites a federal waiver sought by Gov. Henry McMaster — and granted by the Trump administration — to allow the state to license foster-care programs that impose religious restrictions on the families with which they place children.
The waiver allows the Christian Miracle Hill Ministries to continue operating even though it has turned away same-sex couples. The group also was the subject of a complaint from the Anti-Defamation League after it declined a spot to a Jewish volunteer.
Miracle Hill and its supporters argue it is a matter of religious freedom for the group to be able to operate according to its religious beliefs.