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Considering Buying a Bus - Want to understand basics

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I'm a bus driver for a Christian Camp in Michigan. We have two coaches and also use a traditional schoolbus.


On the diesel coaches, anytime it goes in the shop, we're looking at a big bill. Our most recent bus was a retired Greyhound. We bought it for $20,000 and put about $25,000 into it before we ever took our first trip. School buses are far cheaper to operate and repair, but our round trip averages around 900 miles so we really need the coaches.


If you do it, be sure that one of the key "owner's" of the bus is a mechanic and is willing to spend a great deal of extra time on the bus.


Owning a bus, especially one for passenger transport is a huge commitment. For the relatively little use a Scout troop would have for it, I don't think it's a good idea.

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I have a CDL with air brake endorsement and have formerly driven Silver Eagles and the big square "city bus" varieties as well as "Blue Birds" - (similar to a School bus but in military, espc. Air Force usage) and would use a bus on some trips if we had one - BUT most of the places we go locally you can't get a bus back into - much less out of. Cost are higher than you probably have anticipated and if you aren't a "moneyed" group may quickly be prohibitive. I would NOT want to pull a trailer behind a 44 pax bus - but that's me.


I think the Diesel Suburban (4WD preferred)(I'd prefer a Turbo/waste-gated arrangement) route is the way to go if you pull a trailer.

A high capacity van, if additional trailer capable vehicle/s are going, would be a plus - but the CDL card does come into play. It may work now, but will you always have someone who has or is willing to get(and keep) a CDL AND go on every trip? I also wouldn't prefer to pull a 5-6000 lb trailer behind an 16/18 pax Van.


For us right now; a 16/18 pax van and a 8 pax Suburban would be a great mix.

I'd drive the Van and hope a Trailering knowledgeable parent was along for the trip OR I'd pull the trailer with the Suburban and enough parents would have to volunteer to make up the rest of the lift. Or for some of our Service slash community events we would only need the Van OR the Suburban.

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  • 1 year later...

Thought I'd chime in on this one, as a school bus driver, and member of a troop that has owned 2 buses over the last 40 year period:


1) Where is the best place to obtain a bus (which also begs the question new or used)? What kind of costs am I looking at to obtain one?

We got ours through private schools that have their own fleets, usually they have a few that are not "schoolworthy" (too old), but just fine for private use. New full size school buses can cost $50,000 + (WITHOUT A/C and stereo!), so I think we know to go USED! :) )


2) What are annual maintenance costs associated with a bus?

I'm not sure of the actual costs, but I can tell you that there are a multitude of filters that need to be changed regularly, exhaust, springs and tires must be safe and perfect. Bus parts are commercial quality, so you would pay much more than you would at your local Auto Parts store--you have to get them through a truck parts/heavy duty dealer.


3) Has anyone tried to have the CO pay to maintenance for the bus with the right to use it when you are not, but the scouts get first priority. I am aware every CO is different, but I am interested if this relationship can work.

We have not.



4) What is the size that seems to work best for scouting functions?


It depends of course on the size of your troop, there are generally 73 to 81 passenger full size buses...now by "passengers" they are referring to kindergartners/first graders, three to a seat.


5) Should you try and pull a trailer with it or not?

Absolutely NOT! Visibility can be enough of an issue to the rear of the bus, not to mention "rear end swing". May even be illegal in some states.


6) Do parents or leaders ever have a problem with the lack of seatbelts that buses sometimes present.

You'll always have that issue come up with some parents. Do whatever your state laws say for School buses in regard to seat belts or lack thereof and you'll be fine.


7) Do we remove some of the backseats for gear storage or leave all the seats in and use a trailer


Remove the last 3 or 4 rows of seats and put the gear there. Don't pile it so high that the driver can't see out the rear windows though.


8) With the fuels costs going up like they are, do you find you have more adult volunteers since there isn't wear and tear on their car or fuel costs?


Never saw a difference there.



What else do I need to be aware of or consider before moving forward.


Insurance of course, and most importantly, STORAGE! Where ya gonna keep it? This became a problem for our second bus, the police station let us keep it in the back lot, but eventually we had to get it out--no one wants a big yeller bus in their back yard! Also, make sure the words "School Bus" are removed/covered (we changed it to "SCOUT BUS") and that the flashing red and yellow lights/stop sign are removed or at least disabled. You may be able to change the lenses to all yellow and be legal, but no reds since it's not an "official" school bus! You can still keep it yellow and black though :)


Hope this is of some help to those considering a troop bus. I wouldn't recommend it unless you have a special fund for the insurance, maintainance (constant), and fuel!(This message has been edited by FrankScout)

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Other thoughts for bus use:


1. Insurance is not as bad as you might think. We own two former school busses and our insurance is about $2,000/year total if you shop around. It was much more expensive through the CO so we went on our own. Works out to about $35 per scout/year for us.

2. Repairs can be big ticket, but the worst we have seen is $2,500 for a single item. That is over a period of several years so we have had good luck there.

3. No need to pull a trailer (and dangerous!). You can store all the packs for 30 passengers if you remove the last couple of seat rows and build some storage areas out of plywood. Also, you can install storage bins under the floor similar to what you see in a greyhound. Just big metal boxes with doors that open to the outside but holds all the troop gear and the scouts keep their packs inside in the rear. This was professionally done for a few hundred dollars. We also built overhead shelves.

4. Our busses get used for monthly trips and 2-3 major out of state trips per year.

5. Adults get CDL on a volunteer basis.

6. We do minor bodywork etc ourselves, but contract maintenance with the same outfit that services the local school busses. Most folks will give you a reasonable deal for scouts if you ask.

7. Keeps the troop together on trips, not in the convoy has anyone seen Joe in the last 100 miles? mode.


A former troop of mine did the more traditional troop trailer and rented 15 passenger vans for high adventure. This worked OK but some downsides were:


1. Finding someone with a big enough vehicle to tow the fully loaded trailer. Same couple of guys with big pickups had to step forward a lot. It was not a big trailer, some troops had larger ones, but loaded up it was HEAVY!

2. I am sure a former SM burned out his transmission pulling that baby up the Rockies. He was dedicated and ate the cost, but we found later a lot of dads politely refused to pull the trailer and some asked for compensation beyond gas cost to compensate for maintenance on long trips. Consider you are really asking volunteers to donate the cost of vehicle maintenance/wear if you go this route.

3. The troop grew to the point where it needed two trailers for High Adventure, which doubles the issues above.

4. I have known several troops to have had their trailers stolen. Never seen a bus walk away.


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For large capacity, consider Bluebirds. They make a 75 passenger school bus. But, the length of such a bus could be a problem on narrow roads with hairpins. For myself I like the Thomas's Vistas. However, I don't like 15 passenger vans as they are top heavy, have poor brakes, subpar handling, and weak frames, and not much protection...this is the better choice




Consider the experience and skill levels of your CDL drivers . In my neck of the woods we drive rural with fairly flat terrain. Dispite the fact that these folks are all great drivers, I wouldn't put them on the West Virginia roads I drive in the summer without a few check rides.


Consider also, do you want an automatic, or stick. Wet, or air brakes.


Taking passenger carrying capacity into consideration, I would remove several of the back seats for cargo. This has the added addition of keeping Scouts out of the rear of the bus, the crumple zone in rear end collisions.



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