Although the first day of school is a month away, Apple Bus Company’s first day on the job is Saturday.
After 18 months of preparation by the Missouri-based company, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will begin its 10-year contract with Apple Bus Company on July 1, ending its current contract with First Student.
Apple Bus Company has three locations, in Soldotna, Homer and Seward, according to Vice President of Operations Jay Uchtmann, and the last eight buses arrived from Seattle via a barge to Whittier on Wednesday.
“Everything has arrived in Alaska at this point,” Uchtmann said. “…And our new facility on Funny River Road in Soldotna is complete, and that is the biggest facility.”
The company has a total of 63 buses housed at their Soldotna facility. They also have 17 buses in Homer, housed at their facility on Crested Crane Road, and nine in Seward, located off of Old Nash Road.
“The transit has been hard,” Uchtmann said. “Getting them up to Alaska was really a challenge and it’s great to finally have it done and luckily we had a really good lead time from the school district.”
Uchtmann said that usually, he’ll learn of a new contract just a few months before the school year starts, but the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District started working on the switch to Apple Bus Company over a year in advance.
“That allowed us to ensure that we would have everything and meet all the Alaska school buses special specifications,” Uchtmann said.
Each of the new Apple school buses is equipped with additional lighting, instant tire chains, additional engine block heaters, added insulation and a set of studded tires, Uchtmann said.
“There is just a ton of extra safety above and beyond what a normal bus in the Lower 48 looks like,” Uchtmann said.
The buses will be manned by a fleet of nearly 100 drivers, many of whom previously worked with First Student.
“Basically all of the current drivers that work with the district were offered positions,” Uchtmann said. “They get first priority because of their experience with the school district. Then we’ll be employing right around 30 bus aids or attendants. We also have seven mechanic and ten other full-time staff members.”
The district contract was awarded to Apple Bus Company at the July 26, 2016 Board of Education meeting after the district received three vendor responses..
According to board documents, the switch from First Student to Apple Bus Company will save the district nearly $90,000 a year.
The contract starts at a proposed daily cost of $558.23 for regular education buses and $740.49 for special education buses for the Fiscal Year 2018.
In comparison, First Student proposed $564.31 and $748.56, respectively.
“As you can see, there is a significant cost difference each year, and the cumulative difference means that Apple Bus Company will provide the services for $976,994.11 less than First Student over the life of the contract,” according to board documents.
This will be Apple Bus Company’s first venture into Alaska.
“We’re really excited about going to Alaska,” Uchtmann said. “First and foremost, our focus is on the Kenai Peninsula, we want to make sure we do a great job. After we execute a good start up, it will kind of speak for itself and hopefully people come calling.”
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