Maintenance

School Bus Stock

Barry Stock knows a thing or two about going to work for a foreign-held, mega transport company.

With the pending merger of Laidlaw into the fold of First Group of Aberdeen, Scotland, which is expected to triple the school bus operations at U.S.-based First Student, it’s apropos Stock takes the reigns of the National School Transportation Association next month as its president.

  • Published in News

Back of the Bus: Real People, Real Stories

Look back on the last four years of ‘Back of the Bus’ and you will meet a warm, sometimes weird, but always wonderful collection of people, places and pieces of an industry we are all connected to in our own unique way. Whether it be some interesting insight from Glen “Clothman” Moyer or a story that one of us at STN found worthy of our home-baked little column, we have always tried to end the issue with something to talk about at the next watercooler roundtable or at least give you a something to keep you warm during those 5 a.m. start times.

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Looking at the Future

Apprentice programs form the next generation in pupil transportation.

In the Denver suburb of Thorton, Co., Dave Anderson, transportation director of Adams Five Star Schools, knows exactly where one of the tomorrow’s leaders in pupil transportation is: in his garage learning from his senior mechanics.

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Training Opportunities

Public school districts as well as private school bus companies have employed these policies for decades, in which regular service intervals check for potential problems besides simply changing the oil and making sure the tire pressure is correct. But as the vehicles have evolved so, too, have the responsibilities of vehicle technicians. Today's school buses utilize intricate computer programs to run virtually every function, from the engine to brakes to lighting. And the advent of GPS, routing and maintenance software has the capability to provide in depth vehicle diagnostics. This requires technicians to obtain advanced certifications from such organizations as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, which developed seven tests specific to school buses maintenance issues.

Just as paramount is ongoing training of both technicians and certified school bus inspectors. The National Association for Pupil Transportation holds a competition each year to select the nation's best school bus professionals in these categories. The event also provides training on the latest mechanical issues related to school buses and networking opportunities for participants. NAPT also offers maintenance-specific courses as part of its professional development series.

Additionally, resources exist from at the bus OEM, dealer and product and service vendor levels, perhaps the best place to turn for technical expertise. The School Bus Manufacturers Technical Council at the National Association for State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services exists to advise school bus operators on the latest vehicle design and maintenance issues to increase student safety.

Most states also have at least one school transportation association that communicates news and trends provides training to its members. Several even have dedicated school bus maintance associations.

 

Preventative Maintenance Inspections

Perhaps the most important safety aspect that school districts and school bus companies can provide students is ensuring that the nation's 480,000 school buses that are in regular service nationwide remain in top operating condition. This requires a tried and true preventative maintenance schedule.

So what exactly is preventative maintenance?

We all have preventative maintenance performed on our personal automobiles. Many of us take our car into a quick oil change shop somewhere between 3,000 and 7,000 miles and wait while they change the oil and filter, lube the steering and suspension (if you have grease zerks), air the tires, vacuum the inside, check the transmission, power steering, anti-freeze, and washer fluid levels, and charge us if they add even a capful of fluid. They will check the belt, and pull the air filter in hopes you will need one at a huge mark up. Unless something goes wrong, this is the normal PM schedule for most cars on the road today.

Trucking companies are far more sophisticated.  A breakdown in another part of the Country can cost them thousands of dollars. They often study the life of various components and change them before they fail, preventing a breakdown. The school bus industry runs something between the automobile and the over the road trucking companies. School bus technicians try to find potential problems before they turn into costly repairs that remove the vehicle from service for extended periods of time. There are a number of ways we do this.  The daily pre-trip inspection performed by the driver is the most common. The scheduled services or inspection performed by the mechanics is another. Most states have an annual inspection requirement, which may be performed by a state official.

Preventative maintenance is the key to a safe fleet and an economically operated fleet. School buses must be inspected on a scheduled basis by a qualified mechanic. Lubrication is necessary to extend wear points. The amount of wear in many areas can be measured.  Replacement of component parts can be done before failure occurs.

There is no universal PM schedule. Manufacturers recommend a schedule for their vehicles. States often mandate schedules, and each fleet develops a schedule that they believe is best for them.  Some are based on days, miles, or hours of operation. No matter, these schedules should be continuously reviewed. Determining factors that some schedules may  not be ideal can start by looking at the number and type of vehicle breakdowns. For example, if an operation is making service calls for items that could be found during normal PM inspections may indicate that the schedule should be shortened.