SC should privatize school bus fleet

by John Steinberger | December 17, 2016 3:40 pm

South Carolina is the only state in the country which operates a statewide school bus system. The state maintains a 5600 bus fleet which averages 15 years and 236,000 miles. The state General Assembly has never incorporated a phased replacement purchasing system into its budget. Under a phased replacement system, machinery with a 20-year average lifespan would require the state to replace 5% of the machinery each year.

State Representative Jim Merrill from Daniel Island was recently indicted on 30 counts of ethics and misconduct violations. One of the charges involved his business relationship with Student Transportation of America. While his public relations business Geechie Communications received more than $172,000 from the school bus vendor, Merrill sponsored legislation to privatize the state’s school bus system. The bill passed the the House in 2012 but stalled in the Senate.

School bus privatization is a good idea. The state has a failed track record of replacing and maintaining its enormous fleet. Local school districts should be given annual state funding to contract with school bus vendors to provide bus services. Student Transportation of America, which services 13 states, claims that its average bus in service is six years old, compared to our state system’s 15 years.

Top-down bureaucracies are cumbersome and inefficient. School districts should be able to manage their bus systems and bid for the best deals available.

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