AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin mom, upset over her daughters’ long bus ride without air conditioning, wants the district to reconsider how it decides which routes get A/C and which don’t.
Kai Bush’s two daughters are juniors at Anderson High School, but they live in east Austin and are bused to the northwest school as part of a diversity program. The first day of school, both were excited to start their classes, but it didn’t last by the time they got home that evening.
“Both of them got off the bus,” Bush said. “I had a big smile, and they were drenched in sweat.”
It was 103 degrees that afternoon, and the two had just endured an hour on the bus in rush hour traffic with no air conditioning. The school year started with a string of 100-degree days, and rolling the bus windows down doesn’t help much in stop-and-go traffic, she said.
“The thing that frustrates me is that if you were to see an animal in car, parked in a car with the windows cracked in this 105-degree weather,” Bush said, “you would probably have more concern than it seems they have for the health and safety of our children.”
She called Austin ISD about her concerns, and they told her they do prioritize buses with air conditioning for longer routes. But her daughters’ trip, the district says, is half as long as some of the routes drivers run every day, and they don’t have enough A/C-equipped buses to go around.
“They may have up to two-hour rides because they’re magnet schools, they’re academies, things like that,” said Kris Hafezizadeh, executive director of transportation and vehicle services at AISD.
The district prioritizes its buses with A/C for the longest crosstown routes, he said. The average ride time district-wide is about 30 minutes.
All of AISD’s special education buses are air conditioned. Of the 203 general education routes, just 66 are air conditioned. The district replaces buses after 14 years, and in 2017, it started using bond funds to replace retiring buses with A/C-equipped units.
“Within the next two years, we should be adding another 55 general education buses with A/C to our fleet,” Hafezizadeh said. A bus with A/C costs about $100,000, meaning the price to replace the rest of the daily fleet is around $13.7 million, not including dozens of backup buses.
It should take another five or six years — and another bond — to get to a fully air conditioned fleet.
Unlike Leander ISD, which retrofitted some of its buses with A/C units over the summer, AISD does not install units in older buses. While student safety is more important than cost, Hafezizadeh said, the district does not think it makes financial sense to spend upwards of $10,000 per bus to install A/C only to retire the vehicle in a couple years.
“It’s a balance of what to do, what not to do,” he said. “Is everything a perfect decision? Of course not.”
Bush, whose daughters have an A/C-equipped bus in the morning but not the afternoon, wants the district to reconsider how it dispatches air conditioned buses. The timeline to replace the remaining vehicles is not fast enough for her peace of mind.
“I don’t care if you’re on the bus for 45 minutes or for an hour and a half,” she said. “These kids are suffering.”