Carolina Reporter The
WEEK OF OCTOBER 2, 2008
Fuel costs send riders toward city bus system
South Carolina bus dilemma The rising cost of diesel has forced the S.C. Department of Education to choose fueling buses over replacing them this year.
By Tom Benning Staff Writer EDITED BY STEPHEN YUSKO
The future of Richland County bus service remains tenuous, even as gas prices rise higher and ridership increases. The Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority receives $3.23 million a year from a Richland Country vehicle tax and $2.5 million a year from Scana, an energy and utility-holding company in Columbia. The sources account for almost half of the agency’s $11 million budget. The Scana money will run out next October, while the county funds are expected to last until June. But RTA has seen ridership has increased since April on commuter services from Newberry, Little Mountain and Chapin, bus system spokeswoman Brittany Doten said. On regular non-commuter bus service, ridership is was up 4 or 5 percent in July, as compared with last yearyear. Local riders have noticed a difference, too. Hattie Miller, 19, rides the bus five a days a week from her home on West Beltline Boulevard to work at Church’s Chicken, and she said the it’s much busier now than it was a month ago. “The bus I catch is so crowded, people have to stand up sometimes,” she said. If the bus service stopped, Miller said, she would be forced to drive – a budget crippling move. A one-way bus fare costs $1.50. “There won’t be a choice, unless you are going to walk to work,” she said. Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson said county council is looking for new ways to help fund the bus service in lieu of the vehicle tax. The annual fee, which was started two years ago, charges $16 for private vehicles and $24 for commercial vehicles. In the meantime, Doten said the RTA is waiting anxiously for a plan. “We’ve been penny pinching everything,” she said. “We The just don’t have enough money.”
Carolina Reporter The
Carolina Reporter Publisher Charles Bierbauer
Managing Editor Alex Riley
Editors Tom Benning Derek Lampe Steve Yusko
Reporters Lindsay Brasington Austin Collins Monique Cunin Jillian Hare Tsuyoshi Inajima Jamie Underwood
Faculty advisers Scott Farrand Doug Fisher Cecile Holmes
The Carolina Reporter is published six times a semester by seniors at the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Mail: The Carolina Reporter, University of South Carolina, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Columbia, S.C. 29208
n 5,000 buses run a day n Last year, the department spent $35,926,530.54 fueling buses n Currently, the department spends $1,178,100 a week fueling the bus fleet. n On average, one bus uses 64 gallons of gas a week. n Current fuel budget $10,365,623 n The state will still be more than $13 million short in fuel costs *Note: Figures as of Sep. 19, 2008 Source: S.C. Education Department Monique Cunin / The Carolina Reporter
An aging school bus fleet gives mechanics many buses to fix daily. Eric Friedrich is checking an oil leak and reparing it on one of the three school buses in the Lexington bus maintenance shop. The shop receives two or three service calls a day.
Budget constraints put bus upgrades on hold S.C. school districts forced to choose between new units, fuel By Monique Cunin Staff Writer
‘ Ideally, what
EDITED BY ALEX RILEY
State budget cuts and high diesel prices have left South Carolina public schools with a choice — buy new school buses or just keep fueling the current ones. In 2007, the S.C. legislature passed a law requiring the replacement of one-fifteenth of the state’s bus fleet every year. This year that would mean the state is required to replace 380 school buses. A provision allows the money to be spent fueling the buses instead of replacing them. The state Education Department decided to fuel the buses instead of buying new ones because of budget constraints, said Donald Tudor, transportation director of the state Education Department. This year’s state budget allocates around $10.3 million to the state Education Department for bus replacement. Last week, the department asked for more than $1 million to help offset the cost of fuel. This year, the department is spending about $1.2 million a week to fuel its bus fleet. It does not have figures on how much it spent at this time last year on fuel. Even with the additional money, the department will be a projected $12 million short for fuel needed to run the buses. This year, after budget cuts, the state’s school transportation budget was more than $131 million. “Ideally, what we would like to have is to have every child riding on a bus built within the past couple of years,” said Marshall Casey, maintenance director for the Education Department. Budget constraints have made it impossible to replace
we would like to have is to have every child riding on a bus built within the past couple of years. ’ Marshall Casey Maintenance director for the state Education Department
older buses and continue fueling the current fleet of over 5,700 buses, Casey said. To replace one of the older models would cost the state around $57,000 while a special needs bus would cost around $89,000, Casey said. Each day, school buses carry children to and from school. In the afternoon, when most students ride the bus to get home, more than 343,000 students are transported throughout South Carolina, Tudor said. The department does not know the exact number of students who ride the bus to school in the morning, said Tudor. To keep these buses running, the department operates 45 maintenance shops throughout the state. Lexington School District 2’s shop is responsible for 240 of the state’s buses. “We fuel 120 buses one day and 120 the next day”, said Kenny Boatwrite, Lexington
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Monique Cunin / The Carolina Reporter
Keeping school buses running is a challenge for the Lexington School bus shop. Older buses need more engine work than newer buses. Lexington 2 is responsible for 240 buses. Most school buses are driven 400,000 to 500,000 miles before they are decomissioned. District 2 bus shop supervisor. Every day the shop answers two or three service calls, most of them to fix electrical problems. There are some differences in maintenance and safety features on school buses built within the past few years, said Doug Hamrick, the Education Department’s assistant transportation director. Older buses require more engine and transmission work. In newer buses the type of maintenance done is preventative, said Casey. Hamrick said the backs of bus seats are higher in newer buses to prevent children from getting hurt in a crash. The newer buses also have alarm
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The Carolina Reporter thanks the staff at the Sumter Item for printing this issue.
Monique Cunin / The Carolina Reporter
Tsuyoshi Inajima / The Carolina Reporter
Yahya Khalid Walid, 62, has been a Muslim for over 27 years.
close to the University of South Carolina, many Muslim USC students come to the imam to consult. A typical Muslim rises by 4 or 5 a.m. during Ramadan to prepare and eat breakfast before sunrise. Then most have to go to school, their workplaces or do other activities during the daytime without eating and drinking, the imam said. Observing Ramadan in non-Muslim countries adds difficulty, Adly said.
Many Islamic countries have social and legal orders that create an atmosphere that helps fasting, such as prohibiting restaurants being open during the day, said Columbia International University Professor David G. Cashin, who specializes in Muslim studies. But there are a number of exemptions for Ramadan. For example, those who are old, sick or infants don’t have to fast, Cashin said. Taqiy Muhammad, a former Gamecock defensive back, is among those who used the exemptions. The first and only Muslim football player who has ever
On the Web n S.C. School Transportation Laws www.ed.sc.gov/offices/trn/lawsregs n School Transportation News. www.stnonline.com/stn/index.shtml n S.C. Education Department Office of Transportation www.ed.sc.gov/agency/Innovation-andSupport/Transportation/index.html systems that require the drivers to walk through and check for sleeping children before leaving the bus. Each bus receives a tune-up between 20,000 and 25,000 miles, Casey said. Buses built today are made in ways that make them safer than a family
played at USC said that even though he usually observed Ramadan during a football season, he sometimes had to drink water during a game because not doing so could have harmed his health. “It’s only hard on game days,” Muhammad said. “But when I played football professionally, you know, at any college, it’s not that bad because normally Ramadan fell on when the day is shorter.” When Muslims miss observing Ramadan for such reasons, they can make it up by fasting later for those days they missed, Cashin said. As Ramadan was ending
car, he said. For example, buses have multiple emergency exits and emergency lights, said Casey. School buses are built to meet higher standards of safety than many vehicles on the highway, Casey said.
last month, many Muslims were looking forward to Eidal-Fitr, a three-day celebration at the end of Ramadan. Each year, the Islamic Center of Columbia draws large crowds, sometimes more than 1,000 Muslims, during the feast. “There were a lot of brothers that I met, from Columbia and a lot of them not from Columbia,” Myers said. “We were able to come together, you know, for one cause and treat each other as brothers. And that’s what our religion teaches us that we are all brothers and sisters. So it was really beautiful.”
n PAGE L AYOUT B Y ALEX RILEY