The first wave of Apple Bus Company buses have arrived on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will begin its 10-year contract with Apple Bus Company on July 1, marking the company’s first venture into Alaska and the end of the district’s contract with First Student.
“Across the state of Alaska, there has really only been one vendor in the bussing market for the last 10 to 15 years — First Student,” saidAssistant Superintendent Dave Jones. “We had concerns with the prices we were paying under a monopolistic business status, so we went out and we worked … to figure out what we could do to attract additional vendors.”
Apple Bus Company, headquartered in Cleveland, Missouri, currently provides transportation services to more than 60 districts in the Lower 48 and has begun the process of shipping the new buses to Alaska from a factory in North Carolina, with 10 buses arriving to the peninsula from North Carolina.
“They’re all new, an entirely new fleet with a couple of great new features,” said Julie Cisco, director of planning and operations with the district. “In total, there will be over 80 buses. The first batch of 10 were driven to Seattle, then barged to Whittier.”
The contract was awarded to Apple Bus Company at the July 26, 2016 board meeting after the district received three vendor responses to the district’s request for proposals, Jones said.
“Vendors told us that it’s awfully hard to break into the state when we were only giving a five-year contract, so (we changed that) to attract additional vendors,” Jones said. “…When we look over the life of the contract that we put out there, we’re going to save just under $1 million over the life of the contract because of the new vendor.”
The contract calls for 50 regular education buses and 20 special education buses distributed throughout the district. The contact commences at a proposed daily cost of about $550 for regular education buses and about $750 for special education buses, according to the contract.
According to board documents, First Student had proposed charging $564.31 for regular education busses and $748.56 special education buses. Over the course of fiscal year 2018, the switch to Apple Bus Company is estimated to save the district $89,225.48.
The district will also migrate to a two-tier busing system on the southern peninsula next school year, where one bus makes two pickups and two dropoffs each morning. This reduces the number of buses by six and saves the district nearly $600,000 in expenditures a year according to board documents.
“Also, when we talked with the folks that Apple currently works with in the Lower 48, everybody was very pleased with their contract services and the services that they give,” Jones said.
The buses provided by Apple Bus Company have several features that Jones is excited to see implemented in the district including a second stop sign at the rear of the buses and new, upper-end heaters to warm the engine and inside of the bus more quickly, Jones said. In the district’s request, they put out bid specifications that meet both national and state standards, but Jones said that Apple Bus Company has exceeded those standards.
“It’s nice that they’re concerned about the safety of our students to the point that they are actually building buses to a higher standard than we require them to,” Jones said.
The additional features are being provided at no additional cost to the district, Jones said.
“We’re really, really happy,” Cisco said. “They are a great company with a great reputation… And Mr. Jones did something that hasn’t happened in 12 years, he brought in competition. Having one vendor is not good business and as a state we are hopeful.”
In July of 2016, First Student asked the Alaska Courts to pause the contract decision, alleging that the disctrict commited an abuse of discretion by announcing intent to award Apple Bus the contract and thus would cause First Student irrepable harm. The Kenai Superior Court lifted the stay and the Board of Education was able to award the contract during a special meeting on July 27, 2016.
The contact decision was originally going to be held during a regular meeting, but had to postpone the decision because an appeals process had not yet been resolved.
Currently, Apple Bus operates in five states. According to their website they are a “locally owned family-style business.”
The company will have three sites on the peninsula, in Homer, Soldotna and Seward.