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Organizing the Shop

Build for efficiency, build for communications, build for maintenance management.

Organization combined with proper communication is the key to efficiency and will lead
to a more productive operation. To achieve this, Shendehowa Central School District in
New York, where I serve as senior automotive repairer, needed a method to communicate the schedule of buses being held or in the cue for maintenance or inspection to reach all affected departments, including our drivers. It also needed to be easily understood by the various stakeholders and display live data so that everyone would receive the most up to date information. I did not see any off-the-shelf solutions, so I designed one myself. Before I explain our new, live information system, let me discuss our old, 20th-century system.

Our old system consisted of two, 4-foot-by-8-foot boards. On one board, we tacked sheets of paper and tracked information on buses that were in the maintenance cycle. A couple of years ago, we transitioned to dry-erase boards. They served their purpose but were tacky looking, and the information was accessible only to the mechanics.

I designed the new board to be the focal point of our shop. Our district technology department approved the concept we wanted and supported purchasing a 70-inch television for this project. The TV is connected to the wireless network. I used Google Sheets to create schedulable tasks that show what we are dealing with and a few weeks of upcoming Department of Transportation (DOT) inspections. It also shows any off premises equipment (being outsourced for repair or warranty) and any tasks we need to keep track of (manufacturer recalls or service programs that we put together). There is a place to show which buses are held for preventive or corrective maintenance (PM/CM) and another to show what is in our body shop.

It shows the status of each job and, if parts are needed, the date that the parts were ordered. The main benefit of displaying the work utilizing Google Sheets is that it shares live data for our drivers, dispatchers, routing specialists, grounds and maintenance
departments, and department administrators. We could even share this data with our vendors so that they can see why we are sending our buses to them. They can also see the list of warranty repairs we must send them.

Another advantage of this schedule is that you can add certain members of the other departments as commenters. This allows us to communicate with our dispatch department to have them hold buses for DOT inspections or maintenance. This gives dispatch time to advise the driver in advance that we will be holding their bus and to arrange for a sub-bus for the driver.

Drivers want to know that their complaints are being addressed. Drivers are an asset to any fleet operation, and it is important to take their complaints seriously. They drive the same bus daily and will notice a difference in operation that a mechanic might think is normal. If the driver says that the bus drives differently than it did yesterday, then something has changed. The bus needs to be pulled into the shop and looked over. If no issues are found, then at least the situation is documented and can be referred to if any issues persist. The screen shows drivers where their bus is, what repairs or services are needed, and the date that we found the issue. This makes it possible for them to estimate when they will get their bus back. They can see the schedule on their tablet, PC or phone, but they must contact the shop to obtain more precise data.

We also added a screen for each school’s snow removal equipment. Each year, we service the snow removal equipment for each school in our district. On this screen, the head custodian can see all their equipment (bobcats, walk-behind snow blowers, etc.) and the status of our service. I have added a drop-down for each piece of equipment. An “L” in the status box means that the piece of equipment has been looked over and a list of needed repairs has been made. A “D” in the status box means all the repairs needed have been completed, and the equipment is ready.

Another screen that I have added is a map of our compound. When drivers click on this tab, they can see where their bus is located. This saves the driver time that they could use pre-tripping their bus instead of finding their bus. It also assists when vendors come to pick up buses for repair, I can show them the screen and the location of the bus that they need to pick up.

The new method of posting maintenance information is a small part of our overall maintenance management efforts to help us run a safe and efficient maintenance program. When operating a shop, always stay ahead. We try to plan at least two weeks ahead. If you are planning your workload daily, it can become overwhelming when breakdowns or unexpected issues arise. We focus on DOT inspections and upcoming services. You know when these are due so you can plan for them. Use this to your advantage. Do not wait for oil changes, New York State inspections, or brake inspections to become due.

We do our PMs every 56 days. When we pull our buses in for PM services and note there is another scheduled service that will come due before the next PM (for example, oil change, brake inspection, state inspection), we will do the service while the bus is in the shop. Even though the service is early, it reduces the number of times we take the bus from the driver and frees future shop schedule. Do not kick the can down the road. It might relieve your stress today, but it will haunt you later.

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the March 2024 issue of School Transportation News.

Daniel Boyea is the senior automotive repairer for Shenendehowa CSD in Clifton Park, New York, a 2021 STN Garage Star, and currently the capital area chapter president of the New York Head Mechanic Association. He can be reached at boyedani@shenschools.org.

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