You don’t know what you have until you lose it, and with the current state of the economy and its effect on school budgets, you might have to wait a while to get it back. That’s the message many transportation departments are keeping in the back of their minds, pushing many to become even more efficient with what they already have. Whether it’s solid preventative maintenance programs, up-to-date technical training or even a little help from some of the local “incarcerated” residents, school bus garages are working hard to keep the buses they have in top shape.
It’s All in the Training and Technicians
You can always teach an old dog — or a new hire — a new trick. With the constant technology upgrades with engines, transmissions, GPS systems, emission retrofits and the like, there is always something that requires training to understand and implement.
“Besides doing our own in-house training, we take advantage of various training venues, which are offered by local vendors regardless if the vendor is the one we buy buses from or not,” said Alfred Karam, transportation director for Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar, N.Y. “If the training is something we want, we will seek it out.”
As soon as Karam and his fleet maintenance supervisor return from any training they deem valid, they make sure their technicians also receive the same instruction.
“In cases where it is a completely new type of technology, we will make sure that the vendor we are purchasing the equipment from provides the necessary training and support,” said Karam.
Some districts put their mechanics behind the wheel in case something is missed during either the pre- or post-trip inspections.
“We actually have the technician drive the bus to see if there is something being overlooked by the driver, which is another vital part of our successful maintenance program,” said Jed Tate, fleet maintenance manager at San Juan School District in Blanding, Utah.
Washoe County (Nev.) School District Fleet Operations Manager Todd Duncan keeps the 292-bus fleet in top shape with a comprehensive preventative maintenance program and technicians that constantly train on the proper ways to inspect and repair the buses.
“Our technicians are actively testing to become ASE certified. A number of them are already ASE Master School Bus Technician certified,” said Duncan, who schedules his buses for bumper to bumper inspections and service every 5,000 miles.
Easy Steps to Efficiency
Sometimes the best way to keep everyone on the right track is to lead by example. Rich Lanza, head mechanic for Southern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in Rye Brook, N.Y., keeps his shop and staff as orderly as possible and maintains a level head throughout the work day.
“In Rich’s shop, there is a high level of professionalism that he expects from himself and everyone else that translates to the work performed,” said Transportation Director Cheryl Fitzgibbons. “There isn’t a lot of wiggle room in the schedules they have to keep.”
Those high standards have translated into a state department of transportation inspection pass rate of 96 to 98 percent. Lanza, who also won the title of top technician in the state a few years back, keeps enough spare buses on hand to allow for a regular and detailed preventative maintenance program.
“Rich and his men can keep a bus off the road for a good week at a time for all of the preventative maintenance work as needed,” added Fitzgibbons.
Sometimes simple communication can head off an issue before it gets out of hand and more costly than necessary. Dave Rose, director of transportation for Nadaburg Unified School District in Wittmann, Ariz., makes sure he facilitates that communication at every level.
“To keep our fleet in top shape, the drivers and the mechanics work together on a daily basis and are always having one-on-one talks about any issues,” said Rose.
It always helps to have an extra set of eyes when it comes to keeping watch over your fleet. But, sometimes those eyes can get weary, and soon a pre-scheduled maintenance program might not stay on schedule. More and more, transportation departments are employing the help of preventative maintenance software to keep everything flowing and buses in tip-top shape.
“We use repair and parts history to search either a single vehicle or the entire fleet for historical parts usage or maintenance to determine a repeat or ongoing problem with any vehicle system,” said Bob Duquette, shop foreman for Liverpool, N.Y. Central School District.
Duquette decided on VersaTrans’ FleetVision to help keep everything in order. The software has helped him minimize the cost of his fleet operation by providing data in a user-friendly form from which he can schedule maintenance and track the cost of labor, parts and fuel. It also gives him the ability to create a history on vehicles that provides data for vehicle replacement, efficiency and other cost analysis.
Philip Quinzi, transportation garage supervisor at Rose Tree Media, Pa., School District, tracks his fleet of 73 school buses and 26 district vehicles using software from Dolphin Fleet Management. Whether it’s updating his vehicle files or automatically generating work orders, Quinzi and his crew gain more time to spend on actual repairs.
“With Dolphin we can look back in the work orders and quickly see how long a part or repair lasted or if there may be a trend in a particular part or product that we used on a bus,” said Quinzi.
A Little Help Never Hurts...and Sometimes It’s Free
For Al Matuszczak, transportation and building maintenance supervisor at Lowville Academy & Central School in northern New York State, something as small as a good wash and wax can save his fleet from future body work due to rust. Rather than keep his staff busy with the chore, Matuszczak utilizes supervised prisoners from a minimum security prison in local Watertown.
“Originally it started with them painting our facility, but it has evolved to the present tasks of touch-up painting of buses, washing and waxing the buses and cleaning out our trench pit drain. We have really noticed the difference in the look and rust on our buses since we started this program several years ago,” said Matuszczak.
Changes to the state’s welfare program has also given him some other additions to his workforce. The state now requires certain welfare recipients to provide services to receive their benefits. A client usually works a minimum of 20 hours per week. The school works with social service counselors to ensure that the placement will be within its requirements and that each individual is suitable for the work.
“We are convinced as a school district that a workfare program is a benefit to all; it is the right thing to do for the unfortunate. It takes time and management but is well worth those extra efforts,” added Matuszczak.
Turning Everything Green
For years garages have recycled all used engine fluids as a common, but regulated, process. But, with the recent boom of the “going green” movement, many are finding other ways to reduce and reuse anything and everything.
“We even recycle our out-of-service vehicles,” said Southern Westchester BOCES’ Fitzgibbons. “We use as much of them before they are totally retired. There are a lot of useful parts on a bus that is down, because you don’t want to spend the money on a new engine. We use everything on that bus that we can think of.”
Others, like Borger, Texas, Independent School District Director of Transportation Kenneth Coleman, also get as much as they can out of what they have.
“When a towel is used to clean windows and dashes during servicing for out-of-town trips those are saved for use by the shop to clean up oil and grease instead of using a fresh towel.”
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