FAIRFAX, Va. — It’s not just students and teachers returning to school in Fairfax and Prince William counties Monday, the school buses are too.
Fairfax County’s fleet of 1,630 school buses is the second largest public school fleet in the country, behind only New York City.
More than 80 technicians have been working on the buses all summer to be sure they are ready to roll on day one.
On average, the inspections and basic maintenance take about four hours per bus, including checks of brakes, headlights and flashers.
Extra mechanics will still be on hand Monday morning in case of any issues, Fairfax County Director of Vehicle Services Mark Moffatt said.
Buses can run about 100 miles on an average daily route, which means they have gone up to 5,000 miles by the time they get an oil change and other maintenance every 45 days.
In all, the fleet travels 17.4 million miles each year, or about 96,000 miles per day.
Approximately 142,650 of the 188,000 Fairfax County Public School students are eligible to ride the bus each day to or from 16,086 bus stops. That equates to more than 25 million individual trips each school year.
Fairfax County is the 10th-largest school district in the United States by enrollment.
This is the first time in recent memory it has had enough snow days over the preceding few years to qualify for a waiver from state law to start before Labor Day.
In early October, the mechanics will start the changeover to winter mode, which includes making sure heaters work rather than air conditioning.
More than three out of four of the county’s vehicle mechanics now have national certifications, up from just a handful in the past.
“I want to make sure that the buses are safe the first time, so I don’t have to worry about it a second and a third time, so our technicians are highly skilled now,” Moffat said. “I’m very proud of that, and you can see that as you go around because the technicians walk a little straighter, a little more chest-out because they’re proud of what they’ve done in doing their part to keep Fairfax County Public Schools, in this case, safe and operational.”
How old are the buses?
About half of the buses are 10 years old or newer. The oldest bus that’s still in operation is 19 years old.
“The older buses usually are taken off of the prime line, meaning they’re not driving every single day,” Moffatt said.
Instead, they could be used for trips or as replacements if there are any issues.
Maintenance work has been a little easier the last few weeks thanks to cooler weather.
“Being a mechanic, being a technician is hard work, hot work, and it’s always nice when it’s nice this way,” Moffatt said.