High gas prices impacting travel for Valley school districts

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The steady record-high gas prices are starting to overwhelm the budgets in school districts in rural Fresno County.

On Tuesday, the average price per gallon of diesel fuel, which is needed for most school buses, is $6.17 across the Valley.

Parlier Unified Transportation Supervisor Mario Vargas has been working in this department for more than 28 years.

He has a fleet of 14 buses, nine of them are diesel and five are electric, but drivers can only drive one electric bus because of the lack of charging stations.

The school buses only get about five to six miles to the gallon.

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Vargas says their fuel costs have nearly doubled, so he has to watch every penny.

"Unfortunately, we just roll with the punches," he said. "We continue to fuel and continue to purchase fuel. We have no choice."

Up the road at Kings Canyon Unified School District, Director of transportation Andrea Serrano says they have 2,800 students who rely on bus transportation.

"As of right now, we are just absorbing the cost and just focusing on getting the kids to school," she said.

Rural schools face the extra challenge of long routes covering hundreds of miles per day.

"We have routes that go from Squaw Valley, Wonder Valley, Sanger, Reedley, Orange Cove," Serrano said. "We have a lot of mileage that we put in."

While half of Kings Canyon USD buses still run on diesel, the district has alternatives.

Some of the buses in their fleet use compressed natural gas or CNG, which is a lot more economical.

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Serrano says even their electric and hybrid electric buses help offset the big costs.

"Having those options really allows us to continue on," she said. "It allows us to maybe look at some routes and do most of them on our compressed natural gas, so it is significant that we have that option."

As for sporting events, Vargas says they are now using multiple SUVs to cut cost -- which is not his preference because of the safety risks.
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