Peninsula School District mechanic Joni Dupille inspects one of the many school bus Onspot automatic snow chain systems. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

It’s “safety first” in Peninsula School District’s transportation department.

That’s true all year through, but in winter, when the roads can be treacherous, getting students to and from school takes even more attention to detail, district officials said.

“We start getting ready for winter driving in November,” said Annie Bell, PSD director of transportation. “We start checking our snow routes and double checking all the mechanics and making sure that things like the sanders and de-icers on all the buses are full and operating properly.”

New windshield wipers are installed as needed and the new “Onspot” chains are tested.

The Onspot chains are part of a drop-down system that’s much easier to use than the old-fashioned chains that have to be installed manually, Bell said.

“You push a button while the bus is moving, and the chains drop down and go underneath the wheels,” she explained.

The Onspot system is connected to the axle of the bus, ‘and it drops down as the bus is moving and the bus just runs over the chain. It’s not connected to the tire,” she added.

“On the main highways that have been plowed, you don’t need them, so you just push the button and they go back up. You can push the button again and the chains are engaged,” Bell said.

Demaris Hendrix, who has been a PSD school bus driver for 21 years, likes the new system.

“Before, we had to drag the big chains out of the bus and install them. With the new chains, we can just drop the chains down and they go on real easy. There’s a lot of hills on the Peninsula –– a lot of changes from sea level up to 500 feet and there can be a lot of snow on the hilltops,” Hendrix said.

Drivers have to be moving when they put the chains down, said Joni Dupille, a bus mechanic.

When there’s snow, or a threat of snow, Bell and several PSD officials go out at 3 a.m., checking the roads throughout the district.

“We make the decision by 5 a.m., if we’re going to go on snow routes, or go two hours late or close or whatever,” Bell said. “We have to make sure that all our families and our employees are informed.”

The district has 88 buses, 70 of which are on the road every day, Bell said.

“On the Key Pen, we have 11 buses at KPMS, four at Evergreen, five or six at Vaughn and four or five at Minter. And then we have 22 buses at the high school and about 11 of those are Key Pen buses,” she said.

All of the big 78-passenger, rear engine Bluebird buses have the Onspot chain system, she said, “The smaller busses all have to be manually chained. They also have sanders so you can dump sand as you drive along. We have a chain class every year that all our drivers have to attend.”

PSD buses also receive two Washington State Patrol inspections yearly, according to Joel Schroeder, the district’s shop foreman. One is in the summer; the other is a surprise inspection in the winter.

“They do about 25 percent of the buses during the winter inspection and in the summer they do every single vehicle,” Schroeder said. “They go through every bus from top to bottom.”

If the inspectors find even one minor defect –– even so much as a tiny dent or “ding” –– the bus is put out of service.

School buses are one of the safest forms of transportation –– and also the most scrutinized vehicle on the road, he added.

“The bottom line is that the students are safer, the buses are going to be on the road longer so we’re saving wear and tear on the equipment and saving the taxpayers money,” Schroeder said. “We take a lot of pride in how well we do.”

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