You see them everywhere: those yellow school buses, taking kids to and from classes and field trips. They seem like big behemoths as they go down the road. In the United States, there are actually four different types of buses that school systems can use, and federal regulations require that they be no longer than 45 feet.
Types of School Buses in the United States
There are four types of school buses that meet safety standards and regulations in the United States. These buses are all different sizes and formats. A Type A bus is a smaller bus that is built on a van chassis but cutaway from a van size to have a higher capacity. These buses have a driver’s side front door and a larger bus entry door for passengers. Type B buses are small but built upon a bus body. The entrance door for everyone is located on the front passenger side.
A Type C bus is called a “conventional” bus. It’s built on a flat chassis and has an engine located at the front of the bus. These are the most common buses you’ll see on the road. Type D buses are the largest in operation, and they have an entry door at the front right side. The engine on these buses can be in the front or rear.
The History of School Transportation
Transporting students to school dates back to the 1880s; before that time, kids had to walk or find other ways to get to school. In 1886, the Wayne Works company of Indiana developed wagons for school transportation. The company called these wagons “kid hacks” or “school hacks.”
Wagon transport to school didn’t take off nationwide, but with the advent of the automobile, Wayne Works developed a motorized wagon in 1914. A. L. Luce, a Ford dealer in Georgia, developed the first motorized school bus in 1927, and he would later develop Blue Bird Corporation, a leading manufacturer of school buses. Three years later, Wayne Works developed a bus of their own, and they would become another leading bus builder.
Why Are School Buses Yellow?
One of the things everyone notices about school buses is the distinct yellow color. Why are school buses painted this color, and where did the idea come from? School bus yellow dates back to 1939, when educator Frank Cyr revealed the results of his study of school buses in ten states. Cyr discovered that various states had different types of buses, and some states were using trucks or horse-drawn wagons to transport kids to school.
Cyr proposed a national standard for school buses for consistency across the board. When some people at the conference suggested that the United States paint buses red, white, and blue, Cyr balked and studied the best color to get the attention of other vehicles. He placed 50 paint samples around a room and discovered that the yellow color we now associate with school buses caught the eye better than any other color. Federal law doesn’t require school systems to paint their buses the same color, so the yellow school buses are voluntary.
School buses have a specific design that ensures the safety of everyone aboard. The concept of compartmentalization drives bus design, with the idea that passengers can be protected without seat belts, since seat belts aren’t mandatory in the vast majority of school systems nationwide. The seats on school buses sit high enough that most opposing vehicles are below the feet of passengers. Heavily padded seats provide cushioning on impact, while aisle and rows of seats are close enough to each other that passengers don’t move around much in the event of a crash.
Younger children sit three to a seat and older kids and adults sit two to a seat to prevent movement in a crash. Windows are higher on school buses than on other vehicles, and there are no windshields near passengers. Finally, school buses have multiple emergency exits to make it easier for anyone to get out.
Reducing Environmental Impact
For a long time, modern school buses have relied on diesel as their primary fuel choice. Even as recently as 2017, over three fourths of school buses used diesel. That same year, gasoline-powered buses became more prevalent, but they’re still far in the minority. Alternative fuel school buses that run on natural gas are a much smaller piece of the pie, but they’re bound to increase as school systems look for more environmentally friendly technology. Electric school buses are expensive, but they can be good solutions for urban school systems.