The school bus. A vehicle we all have spent hours of our lives on. This was the first step towards an education. A very frightening experience for any kindergartner. Walking up those three (then) big steps and entering this world of a (then) tall ceilinged vehicle full of blue seats and kids.
This of course, was an experience unknown to those kids who either walked to school or who had cool parents who drove them every day. I, however, was not one of those lucky kids. I've been taking the bus for over 10 years now, both ways.
Apparently, according to my parents, the old buses had a manual transmission. Throwing them into first gear was so rough, kids would go flying. Again, this is what I have heard. All I know is that more recent buses (within the last 20 years) have had an automatic transmission of some type.
The buses in my county have four numbers. The first two represent the year. The next two represent the number in which the bus was bought. For instance, 0318, my bus number, was the 18th bus bought in 2003 by the county. What needs to be made clear, is that 2003 was the last year of the non-air-conditioned versions. Any bus 2004 and above has a set of Carrier air conditioners in it. What also needs to be made clear is that I am in Florida. In the Summer. It is quite warm.
(Full Disclosure: Sarasota County (my school district) wanted me to experience the joy of the 2003 Freightliner Thomas School Bus so badly, they forced me and about 70 other kids onto it. This is the oldest bus in the Venice High fleet. This is also the only non-air-conditioned bus in the Venice High fleet. The bus is also rated to hold 72 kids. We have 71. We are in high school. The seats are not big. We are. Sitting three to a seat on a small non-air-conditioned bus isn't fun. But, to make things better, we got assigned seats. And I am sitting on the wheel hump. This is the spot where the rear wheels go. They have a huge hump coming through the floor. Of course, I have to sit on it; all 275 pounds and 6 feet of me. With two other fairly large kids. I am also on this vehicle for 40 minutes.)
The bus really isn't good. Like at all. It is uncomfortable, the seats are worn and warped, cramped, and loud.
It also doesn't help that our driver, a woman in her late 40s to early 50s, may be the worst driver ever. she doesn't use turn signals, slams on the brakes, and sits at stop signs forever. We sat at one for 3 minutes at one point on our route today, because she didn't want to "cut off" the car about two miles down the road.
This is a bus. I do not really know what else there is to say about it. It is big, rectangular, and yellow. A bright, school bus yellow. However, unlike some supercars in the same color, it doesn't work so well on a bus. The rims are blacked out. I think they may have been yellow at one point, but now they are covered in so much dirt that it looks like paint. Normally, black rims are cool But on this, not so much.
I do like the square turn signals up on the hood. They are just cool looking to me. The round tail lights are not made to look good. They serve a purpose.
The two piece windshield is cool because it has a small homage to the Corvette Stingray
The bus gets a three out of ten. Why? One point goes to it for simply having some sort of shape. It also gets one for the split window. The last point is for the turn signals.
Again, this is a public school bus. It doesn't have leather. Or carpets. Or soft touch plastics. It is a combination of hard plastics and some plastic seat covers.
The driver's compartment is kind of cramped. The seat is on air-shocks, so you can find the perfect height. It also allows it to absorb all the bumps. However, the seat is not very comfortable. There is no recline, and you are sitting at a virtually right angle. The steering wheel can't be adjusted, so it isn't in the best position for everyone. Luckily, the buttons are all within reach. The split window, however, is now more of an annoyance than a design feature.
The passenger seats are even worse however. They are fixed in place. They are at a right angle. They have very little legroom. The cushions are hard. They also warp, so some seats have even less legroom than others. The bottom cushion is also too short, so you are hanging off of it too much. There are no bolsters. You slide around on every turn. The best feature of these seats would have to be the color. It is a very nice, not overpowering blue.
The ceilings are kind of high, which is nice. You don't need to bend down to walk on the bus. The multiple windows also let in a lot of light. They all lower about halfway. You always have some glass remaining. The center aisle has a slip-proof plastic and has drainage grooves so any liquids get out of there easily.
It gets a two out of ten. One for having an interior. The other point is for the color.
Our particular bus has the CAT 3126 Diesel Engine. Producing a whopping 330 horsepower, this is a strong engine that can be fixed with a hammer. It is mated to a Allison four speed automatic transmission. Now, in any normal car, 330 horsepower is a lot. But in a bus weighing in at about 11 tons (without 70 kids), it isn't much. Building speed takes a lot of time. You cannot easily pull out in front of traffic. Passing also isn't the easiest thing in the world to do. Zero to sixty times are in the high teens to mid twenties. These buses are also limited to 65 MPH, like many big rigs. Stepping on the gas usually makes the transmission kick down a gear or two, and then it sits at a higher RPM (since gas mileage wasn't yet a huge concern). The diesel does provide a lot of torque, however, which helps it get off the line rather quickly (what happens after 5 MPH is what takes time).
Three points here because A) it can hit 60 MPH, B) the diesel motor is very torquey, C) The transmission is trying to be helpful (it at least deserves a participation ribbon).
To put simply, the brakes suck. They are rough, just kick in all at once, and since they are air brakes, make a lot of noise doing so. The release of the brake causes a lunge, which is very uncomfortable and makes it difficult to finish copying your friend's homework.
Again, they get one point because they do stop the bus. Eventually.
The ride is harsh but not awful. Every little bump can be felt. The fact that the seats offer no support also causes a lot more jostling of the passengers. On a smooth road however, it isn't awful. The big tyres make potholes seem less severe than they are. The springs are really beefed up, so there isn't a lot of play. The really bad bumps are bad. Otherwise, it isn't the worst thing ever.**
Handling is not this bus' strong suite. The turning circle is huge, the steering wheel is too big, and tight maneuvers are virtually impossible without backing up first. It is very stressful to drive a bus. This thing adds to that stress. it feels larger than it actually is. This is really true on twisty roads when the rear of the bus is still on the last turn. Again, the unsupportive seats throw you around too. It makes turning the wheel even harder. Think Jeremy Clarkson when he falls out of the seat of his big rig and onto the gear shifter.
(jump to 2:38 to see what I'm talking about)
The gearbox, having only four gears, isn't very good. It revs too late and causes a lot of noise. The shifts are also very rough, some to the point of throwing you backwards into your seat. At speeds of 45 MPH, it can't decide between third and fourth, so it is constantly shifting. This makes for a bad ride. Reverse gear is also very slow, and acts more like when you disengage the clutch in a manual car and it rolls. There is no speed to it.
The pluses of the gearbox include the fact that it does downshift when given throttle. It also does use all four gears.
I love the sound of a diesel engine. Normally. This one is not one of those. It is a loud, annoying sound, made even more evident by the need to have open windows. The engine moans, it isn't a pleasant revving engine. The gearbox also doesn't help. By holding it in too low of a gear, the noise is louder than it should be.
This bus doesn't have speakers or a sound system. The other noise is the sound of the brakes. And that is a loud pop, which isn't any better. The last noise would be in the winter or rain, when the heat is on. It is a soothing whirr, maybe the best sound on the bus.
Our bus is a pretty basic model. The county sprung for electric opening doors, so the driver doesn't have to push the bar and pop it open. it also has seatbelts (well, lap belts, but, you get the point). No one wears them. But they are there. And they have three colors: beige, red, and blue. That bit is pretty cool. Lastly, our bus has the multiple light package. That means that it has rows of lights on the roof, so someone can see in the dark.
It lacks everything else, so giving it points is not an easy thing to do.
Total Score: 21/90**
2003 Freightliner Thomas School Bus
Engine: CAT 3126 Diesel
Transmission: Allison four speed automatic
0-60: (about) 18 seconds
Top Speed: 65 MPH (limited)
Curb Weight: 11 tons (no passengers)
Seating: 72 passengers
**These pictures are not of my actual bus. They are of a similar model I found online. Photo credit goes to: http://milehighbussales.com/thomas-freight... *
**_It is out of 90, not 100 because I do not have a value category because it is not easily possible to place a value on this vehicle. _