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April 01, 2005  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Mechanical aptitude and proper attitude

by Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher


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How little the general public knows about the tremendous effort that’s made each school day to get 24 million children to school and home. If they knew how much teamwork, coordination and planning (and sweat and elbow grease) are necessary to keep the nation’s fleet of 450,000 buses in good working order, they would be amazed!

We often talk about the tremendous efforts of school bus drivers — heightened recently by the tragic slaying of the driver in Tennessee — but we often forget to applaud the efforts of the shop staff. Working behind the scenes, mechanics and their supervisors rarely get served with the recognition they so richly deserve.

Fully deserved recognition
That’s why we continue our efforts to feature some of these fine people in this issue. Our “Top 10 Maintenance Programs” article has become an annual showcase for exemplary school bus shops around the nation. Please take a few minutes to read this special section. And don’t forget to look closely at the photos, most of which feature a proud staff of maintenance employees.

In this issue, we also feature our annual maintenance survey. This year’s research presents numerous interesting findings. Among them, the fact that fewer than a third of school bus fleets have a formal maintenance training program is surprising, but not necessarily dismaying.

As I’ve said before, we should provide as much training as we can to all school transportation employees. Whether it’s a formal program or something less structured doesn’t matter so much as long as it addresses all gaps in the education of your employees.

In this year’s survey we asked you about the greatest challenges you face in the shop and here are some of your answers:

 

  • “Electronics, computerization”
  • “All the new technology”
  • “Electronic engines”
  • “New electronics”
  • “Lack of computerized engine knowledge”

    See a thread here? I obviously pulled comments on the same topic. However, there’s a concern here. If this industry isn’t supplying its mechanics with the training they need to maintain electronic engines, transmissions, antilock braking systems and multiplexing, they’re going to struggle in the years ahead.

    Training can’t be ignored
    What we need to do is take advantage of all training opportunities that are out there. Some community colleges offer classes in diesel engine technology and antilock braking systems. As much as possible, mechanics should be encouraged to take these courses. If you can cover the cost of the course, even better.

    Also, don’t be afraid to check with your bus dealers. Whether it’s a half-day seminar on a chassis or engine topic or a two-hour in-service on maintaining a wheelchair lift, vendor training can be invaluable. Check with other local school bus operators to see if you can coordinate a joint training session.

    Attending state and national pupil transportation conferences is also a big help. Most of them have trade shows that encourage an exchange of information between customer and vendor. Fight to go to these shows, especially the National Association for Pupil Transportation’s annual conference and trade show in November.


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