STN Blogs Daily Routes Roundup: GM Steps Up with Barra Appointment, America's Best Heading to Kansas City
Roundup: GM Steps Up with Barra Appointment, America's Best Heading to Kansas City PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ryan Gray   
Friday, 13 December 2013 09:25

Four years ago, Thomas Built Buses' Kelley Platt broke the glass ceiling in the student transportation industry by becoming the first female president and CEO of a school bus manufacturer, following a long and distinguished career with parent company Daimler, learning all facets of the business. One of Detroit's Big Three has finally followed suit.

General Motors, which of course includes Type A small school bus chassis in its manufacturing portfolio, named Mary Barra (left) the company's new president and CEO. Barra's roots at GM go back 30 years, when she was an engineering student-intern.

"This appointment will help attract more women to automotive professions. Bringing more women into this male-dominated field is key to the future success of the industry," commented Marcia Ferranto, president and CEO of WTS International, an international organization dedicated to the global advancement of women in the transportation industry. "It's important for young women and men in automotive to be able to look up and see more women in leadership roles. Hats off to General Motors' Board of Directors."

Barra is tasked with leading GM to the next level following a successful emergence from Chapter 11 in June 2009 and a takeover less than a year later by the federal government, which sold the last of its remaining shares on Monday.


Winter was in full force over the past week, as temperatures dipped well below freezing for the majority of the nation. Already five winter storms of the season had suffocated nearly all states from the Rockies to the Atlantic under a heavy blanket of snow, ice and frigid temperatures. But locales not used to such a bombardment have been reeling. Take St. George, Utah, which for the past week has suffered through a 100-year storm.

St. George averages about 2.5 inches of snow a year. So when up to 9 inches fell in the valley on Saturday alone, making it the heaviest snowfall since 1919, the city was ill-equipped to respond. There wasn't salt for the roads, the town owns no snow plows and stores were running out of snow shovels. Washington County School District school buses have not only had problems with gelled fuel, but anything liquid, Director of Transportation Launi Schmutz-Harden told us, adding that at one point the temperature dropped as far as 21 below. 

Making matters worse, she said several activity coaches were out in the Saturday storm when Interstate 15 was closed for more than 12 hours between the Nevada, Arizona and Utah borders, an area known as Virgin River Gorge. Normally the drive from Las Vegas northeast to St. George takes about an hour and a half.

Schmutz-Harden said the coach drivers all took precautions before entering into the gorge and had been told by the highway patrol the road was open. So they proceeded, only to witness several semi trucks jackknife in front of them, blocking the roadway and leaving the teams stranded without phone service.

"This left parents and others worried with no communication or a way to help," she told us this week. "They did have some blankets and managed to stay warm. They let groups out four at a time to go the restroom. The bus doesn't come equipped with restrooms."

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A federal appelate court on Wednesday vacated an EPA rule implemented last year on how it approves heavy-duty truck engines that fail to comply with clean air standards. The ruling by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia finds the EPA erred in not giving engine all manufacturers advance notice of changing its rule and enabling comment on "substantive work" relative to the manufacturers' efforts to bring non-compliant engines into compliance. The court added that throwing out the EPA rule would have little effect because Navistar's new engines will meet clean air standards by the beginning of the new year. Navistar was contacted for comment but declined because of the ongoing nature of the litigation.

It's important to note that Navistar's medium-duty engines for school buses were never subject to the substantive work rule for heavy-duty engines, or the $3,800 fine per non-compliant engine to be able to continue selling them open market.


seon-anti-bullyIn a blog post, mobile video surveillance provider Seon thanks those in the industry who have supported the company's anti-bullying efforts over the past year. Tia O'Grady, Seon's marketing coordinator, recounts the company's advocacy over the past year, including a poster coloring contest in October and Pink Shirt Day for its employees to display the stand they are collectively taking against bullying. She quotes Lori Jetha, Seon's marketing communications manager, who points out that the company has seen firsthand incidents as well as effects of bullying on school buses by the very nature of its business. 

"We decided to take our own local Bully Project to the next level, and make a corporate commitment to anti-bullying education and awareness. It is one small way we can make a big difference in preventing bullying in our schools," says Jetha, pictured at right with O'Grady by one of the company's anti-bullying posters.


Especially for you techies, our September magazine edition provided an updated snapshot of the mobile communications environment in student transportation and the trends in purchasing smartphones and tablets. Fifty-two percent of readers who responded to the survey indicated they had made a purchase in the past year to improve efficiency during the workday. We asked a similar question last year — namely, if they owned a smartphone or tablet — and 55 percent answered in the affirmative. 

Mirroring the rest of society, student transporters are following social trends of performing more work-related functions while mobile. In February, Forrester Research published findings that indicate 29 percent of the global workforce consists of "anytime, anywhere" users of mobile devices, and 55 percent of all adults are forecasted to own a tablet by 2017, up from 12 percent in 2012. 

While the iPhone and iPad dominated marketshare early on, Android is now the preferred platorm, which makes sense as there are more Windows users than that of any other PC operating system. But take note: Samsung is developing new mobile software (and desktop-based office software) by early 2014, according to Business Korea, which could eat considerably into the Windows marketshare.


In a changeup next year, the America's Best School Bus Inspector and Technician Skills and Training Competition will be held in conjunction with the 40th NAPT Summit in Kansas City, which will take place Nov. 8-11. While no exact date has been announced for America's Best, organizers tell us they are still working with NAPT on fitting all the pieces together. Next year will be America's Best 11th annual event, with the first held in 2004 at Navistar's IC Bus plant in Tulsa, Okla. All skills and training competitions since then have been held at or hosted by a school bus or equipment manufacturer. 

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Last Updated on Friday, 13 December 2013 15:35