School districts steer away from using vans for activities

Proposed bill would disallow van purchases for Colorado school districts

The Moffat County School district currently has six 15-passenger vans it uses to transport students to and from athletic events.

However, if a bill by Rep. Mark Udall, D-Boulder, passes this year, the district won't be able to purchase any more of the vans.

If passed, the measure would fine districts $25,000 for buying a new or used vans for student transportation, and the dealer selling the vehicle to a school district would face similar penalties.

Bruce Little, a senior consultant on the transportation staff with the Colorado Department of Education, said in the 15 years he has worked in transportation, the use of vans in school districts has been an ongoing issue.

Vans are not built to the same standard as school buses, which are built as a big roll cage.

"If you take the skin off of a bus it looks like a cage," Little said.

Many districts have already begun replacing the vans with 15-passenger minibuses, which are built to the same standards as full-sized buses.

Moffat County Schools has four of the minibuses.

"I believe you'll slowly see more and more districts replace vans with buses," Little said.

State law already says that districts cannot buy vans built before 1994.

"I've always maintained that yellow buses are 10 times safer," said James Baptist, director of the Moffat County Schools Transportation Department. "Nothing is as safe as a school bus."

Vans, though, are more affordable for school districts, with a cost of approximately $20,000, while minibus prices can run up to $40,000.

But price doesn't matter to Marjorie Kelton, the transportation director for the Steamboat Springs School District, who said her district does not intend to purchase any more vans.

"In my opinion, and the state's opinion, vans are not safe," Kelton said. "We only have one van and only use it when we have to."

Whatever they drive, Baptist said a main focus of the department is to make sure drivers are properly trained.

"Safety is the first concern," he said. "We've done everything possible to make sure a driver has the right training and understanding of the roll-over possibilities of whatever vehicle they drive."

At the state level, Little agreed.

"The direction we've always pushed is that for the safety of children we need properly trained drivers and want them transported in well maintained vehicles."

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