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Rockland BOCES Debuts Country's First Hybrid, Wheelchair-Accessible School Buses

The two buses will save the school district money while reducing greenhouse emissions.

Rockland BOCES introduced the first two hybrid, wheelchair-accessible school buses to be used in the United States Wednesday at its West Nyack campus.  Bus #113 and bus #114 were introduced at a press conference outside the Jesse Kaplan School.

“This is a historic event,” said Dr. Mary Jean Marsico, the Rockland BOCES District Superintendent.  “Rockland BOCES is proud to lead the nation in its bus fleets, particularly in terms of this initiative. We at Rockland BOCES are committed to this community and to the country, and we really have taken the lead in terms of clean initiatives and clean air.”

According to Rockland BOCES Director of Transportation William Popkave, Marsico set an agency-wide goal last year challenging the district to find cost-effective, environmentally sound ways to operate. 

“Compared to traditional school buses, the new hybrids will save up to 40 percent fuel costs, 30 percent in our savings in maintenance costs, and the reduction in the greenhouse emissions, which is really one of our goals, is 30 percent,” he said. “This fits in with current programs that we already have going on at the school.” 

Popkave said he and his staff started applying for funding in January.  In May, they learned they had won the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grant, funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Clean Cities program. The grant was for $112,740. 

“The NYSERDA grant covered the difference between the cost of the hybrid bus and a standard school bus, which enabled Rockland BOCES to effectively purchase two hybrids for the price of one, a tremendous cost savings which doubled our investment,” Popkave said.

The new buses will be used to transport special-needs children to and from school. According to Rockland BOCES Public Information Coordinator Stephanie Gouss, the advantage the hybrid buses offer stems from their ability to power the wheelchair access ramp while standing idle. In order to use the ramp, a traditional bus needs to keep the engine running, sending odorous fumes into the air.

“Most vans are gasoline; all big buses are diesel,” Popkave said, referring to what type of fuel traditional buses run on.     

The hybrid buses have 12 standard bus seats and enough room to comfortably fit four wheelchairs. When the buses are idle, they make less noise compared to a traditional school bus because the engine ceases to burn fuel. 

Joanne Thompson, who drove one of the new buses Wednesday, said it takes training and experience to transition from driving traditional buses to hybrids, especially when getting used to the braking system. When the driver’s foot comes off the gas pedal in a hybrid, the vehicle automatically starts to brake.

According to Popkave, the only cosmetic change is that underneath the hybrid buses, there is a power pack powered by a generator.  He said the district hopes to continue with the green initiatives.

“As we replace vehicles, we will use the most current and up-to-date technology that hybrid has,” he said.    

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) was on hand to speak at the press conference. 

“I want to congratulate BOCES for its efforts to secure this bus and to continue the momentum of moving to an environmentally sound community and world,” she said.        

Another Rockland BOCES green program is a student house with solar shingles, solar panels and geothermal heating. The district also has a windmill that powers 12 computers a day.        

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