‘Lean’ is Operative Word for Today’s & Tomorrow’s School Bus Garages

When Todd Hawkins, senior vice president of maintenance for First Group America, says bus shop operations should be “lean,” he is not talking budget. He means an economy of movement.

“Lean is basically a methodology,” Hawkins explained. “The overarching theme to lean, is what is most important to the customer—that they have a well-maintained school bus. So, when you’re setting up a lean shop, if the technician is not twisting a wrench, the shop is not as lean as it should be.”

Hawkins says how space is organized determines the efficiency of a bus shop. He said that when First Group takes over a school district’s transportation operation, for example, it analyzes how the shop is organized to determine how “lean” the operation is.

Read more on school bus garage planning in the STN February magazine issue

The idea is to eliminate any activity that is not related to a technician turning a wrench. “We put parts as close to the work area as possible, such as putting oil filters next to the preventive maintenance bay,” he added. “We want to get (parts) to the bus quickly. We even look at setting up the parking lot, so that drivers and technicians do not have to walk far to get to the bus.”

Hawkins said his technicians carry iPads to receive work orders. “We choreograph the whole process of scheduled maintenance, to prevent unscheduled repairs.”

Hawkins added that while the company does what it can to arrange shops to operate more efficiently, “sometimes you get what you get, and you have to make the best of it.”