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     New Fairfield’s students recently began boarding brand new school buses. In a turnover that happens approximately every decade, the district’s buses are being replaced for new models. Eighteen 2020 77-passenger Thomas buses are being rolled out, with 15 already on the road and 3 more awaiting Department of Transportation approval.
The new buses are “being put into service as part of the district’s contract extension with First Student which was negotiated last year,” Dr. Richard Sanzo, Director of Finance and Operations, explained. He went on to say, “I’m thankful for First Student’s efforts to incorporate replacing our fleet into the contract while also keeping our pricing and contractual increases in line with that of neighboring districts.”
The buses have a number of super-tech features that are intended to enhance safety, including four cameras on the inside and outside of the bus. The cameras on the outside will take a photo of the license plate of any passing cars that drive through the bus’s stop signs–an all too frequent occurrence.
Additional safety features on the buses include tinted privacy windows and ‘on spots,’ which are retractable chains that improve traction if road conditions are poor in inclement weather. The chains will be helpful on the many hilly and narrow roads throughout the town.
Parents will appreciate a new feature on the buses that incorporates GPS tracking which will allow the district to launch the FirstView parent app. Dr. Sanzo describes the app as follows, “FirstView will allow parents to receive updates on their child’s bus location and receive estimated arrival times.” Given that the district is just receiving and rolling out the buses, the plan is to get acclimated to the new vehicles before introducing this new feature, “We anticipate piloting this app in the Spring with a full rollout later in the year.”
Driver Janine Perez said “The new buses are awesome” and that they “ride so much smoother than the old buses.” She and other drivers also appreciate the new PA system, saying      “We have intercoms in the bus which makes it so much easier to get the attention of the children.”
The PA system is also being praised by the students, especially the high schoolers, who are appreciating the music that the drivers are playing through the sound system. With bus rides that often near a half hour or more, the entertainment is much appreciated.
4th grader Toniann Rome says that she’s enjoying her new bus, “it has heat” she says, plus “the seatbelts are better.” Senior Emma Kersting said she likes the new bus, pointing out that the “Seats are taller…there are no holes in them…and the windows aren’t messed up and tilted.”
Although the new school buses do not come equipped with air conditioning, with so many safety wish list items checked off, the school district’s new rides are an improvement for all.

By Sarah Opdahl