By Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Public Schools' Transportation Department has made several changes in its operations in recent years to be nicer to "Mother Earth."
Over the last two years, the department has refitted school buses with filters to produce cleaner emissions, streamlined bus routes with Global Positioning Systems technology, and decentralized bus parking into four regions across the county, so drivers are closer to refueling stations.
In January, "School Bus Fleet," a publication which reaches more than 24,000 school transportation employees in the United States and Canada, named Clayton County Public Schools as one of its 10 "Green Fleets Across America."
"We were impressed by how many things they were doing to go green," said Thomas McMahon, the publication's executive editor. "It is as much about being environmentally friendly, as it is about being effective at saving taxpayer dollars."
John Lyles, the transportation director for Clayton County Schools, said his department has tried to be at the forefront of environmentally friendly changes to bus transportation for several years.
"We recognized that the Atlanta area is facing a serious situation in terms of its air quality," Lyles said. "We wanted to be proactive in finding ways to improve air quality and to protect our most important resources, which are our students."
Lyles and McMahon said school buses have a reputation of being dirty and unfriendly to the environment. It is a reputation which they called "unfair."
"Years ago, it was common to see barrels of black smoke coming out of the back of a school bus, but that image has changed 180 degrees," Lyles said.
"A lot of people still have that image in their mind," McMahon said.
McMahon said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set new standards for school transportation departments in 2007. The EPA mandated the emissions of Nitrous Oxide had to be cut by 50 percent, while particulate-matter emissions had to be cut by 90 percent. In 2010, the EPA will roll out new standards, which are expected to cut emissions to "near zero."
But, Clayton County's transportation department has not stopped at making buses more environmentally friendly. The magazine also cited the department for changes made at its headquarters in Jonesboro to continue the green movement.
The department recycles printer cartridges, and employees are encouraged to use e-mail and other forms of electronic communication more often, so less paper is used. Lyles said the efforts made in the office are the results of ideas generated by the department's staff.
"We will continue to solicit ideas on ways to become [even] more environmentally friendly," Lyles said. "We will continue to explore the possibility of obtaining newer buses that can operate while emitting fewer emissions."