Albany -- As the school year starts, the extreme heat is not as bad on Dougherty County students, because most of the county's school buses are air conditioned. Administrators say the students conduct has greatly improved with the cooler ride to and from school.
Most of the 146 school buses that transport Dougherty County school system students are now air conditioned. Bus driver Linda Williams notices the improvement in students' behavior. "It's real hot. But with the air on the bus, we deal with it much better."
Eleven thousand students ride Dougherty County buses each day. Before the air conditioning administrators say sitting on a stationary bus while loading was torture, and the kids were more prone to misbehave.
Transportation director Willie Griffin said, "We've cut that down to thirty minutes. But they're now sitting in air conditioned buses. They were burning up before."
Now other school systems around the state are calling Dougherty County, to get information on air conditioning their buses. "We were one of the first systems on this scale to air condition. We get a lot of requests for the information about the work we put into it. Everybody is looking at it," said Fleet Manager Rick Wheeler.
Air conditioning has only increased the school buses fuel consumption by three percent in the months they run it. "It's insignificant on the size of the engines we use in these buses," Wheeler said.
Dougherty County had to retrofit a lot of their buses with air conditioning. Now most new buses are coming with the equipment, and Wheeler says soon he believes the state will require all buses be air conditioned. "I can see in the future it will be a standard part of bus specs eventually."
Air conditioning their fleet cost the school system about $600,000 in an initial investment. Administrators say it is worth the cost in improved conduct, and safer travel.
Dougherty County will receive eight of the 900 new school buses that Governor Sonny Perdue this summer ordered allocated across the state. Then they will have only 12 buses that are not fully air conditioned.