Maine high schools use mostly school buses, not motor coaches, for long trips

Posted Dec. 18, 2012, at 9:03 p.m.

HERMON, Maine — Maine high schools are using the familiar yellow school bus to transport their athletic teams, for the most part, even for long-distance trips.

The use of motor coaches, such as those available from Joseph T. Cyr Bus Line of Old Town, are used on rare occasions.

One of the benefits of a motor coach, however, is an on-board bathroom.

That point was brought home Dec. 11 when the Bangor High School hockey team had to make a trip to Presque Isle. A late start led to head coach Denis Collins saying it would be a nonstop trip for the three-plus-hour ride up.

There were no stops on the way back, either, even though that wasn’t specifically requested by Collins. An incident on the school bus that may have been caused by the lack of a stop led to Collins’ resignation Monday.

The use of a motor coach might have avoided that problem.

“The only issues that come to mind is the constant issue with parents wanting a coach bus, and we’re not having one because it’s a public image of the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Collins on Monday following his resignation. “But it’s a policy that there’s no coach bus, even if the parents offer to buy [rent] one.”

Bangor Principal Paul Butler said Tuesday that use of coach buses at Bangor “stopped some time ago. I think for budgetary reasons.”

Hermon High School also sends teams to Aroostook County. Athletic director Paul Soucy usually uses the Hermon School Department school buses, but he makes sure there is enough time for stops.

“We have to go to Presque Isle and Caribou for soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, track,” said Soucy. “We go at least a couple of times each season.”

“We stop in Houlton to stretch our legs, go to the bathroom or grab something to eat,” added Soucy. “We just build in that extra time.”

He does get an occasional request for a motor coach.

“Sometimes a team will ask for a Cyr coach, but they [the players and their parents] have to fundraise the additional cost,” Soucy said.

Soucy sees “one real benefit for that extra cost. Some of the kids actually do homework on the trips. In the coach, they [have space] and they can turn on an overhead light. [Studying] is not real easy to do on a school bus.”

Soucy places the cost of using a regular school bus at about $3 a mile plus $15-$20 per hour for the driver. So a trip to Caribou (about 340 miles round trip), for budgeting purposes, would cost well above $1,000, and that doesn’t include any stops for meals.

“Transportation has become such a big part of every sports budget,” said Soucy.

Bunky Dow, the AD at Mount Desert Island in Bar Harbor, cited similar costs with the five buses the school department owns.

“I think the long trips are around $500-$600,” he said, pointing out that doesn’t include the cost of maintaining the buses, which is handled by the maintenance department. “If we have to spend the night, obviously it’s more.

“The average trip is around $300.”

Rick Soules, the general manager at Cyr Bus, said the cost of a coach can depend on the contract that a school has with his company.

“On average, it’s probably about 30 percent more for a coach,” Soules said. “It depends on the length of the trip, how long the driver has to stay over. It’s hours and miles.”

Soules said more school districts used to contract for motor coaches in the past, but the use has dropped through the years “as school districts face financial situations,” he said.

Soucy said there are occasions when a coach is preferred, such as in inclement weather.

“What happens [with the riders] if the bus breaks down or the highway closes?” asked Soucy.

Deborah Tuminski, the AD at Vinalhaven, said the Vikings always use Luce Bus Line school buses on the mainland.

That includes trips to Greenville, Forest Hills of Jackman, Buckfield and Rangeley.

“We just assumed [coaches] cost too much,” she said.

Usually, Vinalhaven tries to confine those trips to the weekends, where they can play Friday and Saturday before returning home.

Not always, though.

“Sometimes we have to do it in a day,” said Tuminski of the all-day affair. “We have to catch the 7 a.m. ferry, get to the mainland at 8:20, ride to Greenville, play the game and try to get back to Rockland for the 4:30 boat. If we can’t do that, then we call to have a lobster boat come pick up the team.”

That’s only in the fall or late spring, though, because the weather can be too nasty in the winter and early spring.

While most schools don’t face that logistical scenario, they still try to avoid lengthy midweek trips.

Most of the teams south of Old Town in Class B have to make trips to Aroostook County, but MDI’s volleyball squad also makes trips to the Portland area.

“They’ve also gone to Augusta [on Friday], then down to Scarborough,” he said. They stay overnight, play Saturday and return.

The Trojans used to use motor coaches.

“We did once in a great while a long time ago,” said Dow. “We just found some sports didn’t get to use them [and were upset].”

Now, they don’t.

“It’s a cost issue, most definitely,” he said.

There is no question about what buses the teams at Caribou will be using.

“We always take regular buses,” said Athletic Director David Wakana, with an emphasis on “always.”

“Our theory is, one, we have nice buses and good drivers and, two, the coach bus is too expensive,” he said. “On rare occasions, some will approach us about taking a coach, but if we do it for one, we’ll have to accommodate every other sport, too.”

The buses are built to accommodate the equipment as well as the athletes.

“Racks are included on the inside, and there is space underneath,” said Wakana.

Caribou’s longest trips are to MDI, about 4½ hours.

“We’ll usually stop in Houlton, then we might stop in Bangor,” Wakana said. “Unless we eat, the stops are pretty quick.”

“It works for us,” he added.

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