Lower maintenance costs, heightened safety top reasons for leasing

ARKPORT — Three area school districts have decided that leasing buses, once an abhorrent topic in the administration of multi-million-dollar districts, is an easy way to save money while developing the safest possible fleets for student transportation.

Arkport Superintendent Jesse Harper explained to The Spectator last week the financial rationale for leasing: Five-year leases that Arkport Central enters will reduce maintenance costs because the vehicles are under five-year warranties.

School budgeting with thousands of items is like looking through an accounting blizzard, especially when buses wear out at different rates than, for example, dish washers or computers. Being able to predict costs of buses with price tags of more than $100,000 and on-going maintenance costs that can easily exceed $10,000 annually for six-year old buses with 100,000 miles on their odometers is an aid “to predicting future costs and being as close to budgeting auto-pilot as possible for an enterprise that has an annual budget of more than $10 million,” Harper said.

“The combination of budget certainty and safer vehicles is a school administrator’s dream," he added

The safety component of bus leasing offers another straight-forward advantage: “Trading relatively new vehicles assures higher value for trade-ins,” Harper said.

Within five years, Arkport will have a total bus fleet of 10 vehicles, Harper said.

“Five-year leases are the backbone of leasing,” said Mark Hanrahan, sales manager for Mathews Buses. “One reason is that because buses are leased new, newly leased vehicles have newer technology that gets better fuel economy than comparable vehicles with traditional financing."

Because leases have no interest payments, monthly leasing payments remain less than traditional financing, he said.

“Matthews has sold 30-plus leased buses during the last several years,“ he said “and more districts are looking” at leasing.

One district superintendent noted that late model buses include the latest safety and operating features; leases don’t require the same large upfront down payments as new buses, and leased buses have much lower maintenance costs, especially with extended warranty programs.

Newly leased buses also have fewer state Transportation Department issues such as failed inspections than older high mileage vehicles; maintenance and operating costs are much lower for newer buses because many are under warranty, and fewer districts’ have “stand by” vehicles that increase insurance costs.

One district has several examples of high mileage buses: one 10-year-old vehicle had 151,529 miles on the odometer last June. Another has racked up 142,132 miles while several display at least 95,000 miles as of June 2018.

Southern Tier bus miles typically are rugged uphill stop-and-go climbs on salty winter roads. Hundreds of those miles daily are rugged on any bus no matter how shiny the yellow body.

Area school districts that leased buses during he past two years include Arkport, Hornell and Jasper-Troupsburg.