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March 06, 2012  |   Comments (2)   |   Post a comment

Skilled techs keep fleets top-notch

Pupil transporters say that technicians should have a desire to learn, and they discuss methods and resources for instruction. They also say that employee communication, a strong preventive maintenance program and performance benchmarking are essential to achieving well-maintained school buses.

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Technicians at North Kansas City (Mo.) Schools have good relationships with the maintenance staff at neighboring operations, enabling them to share ideas.
<p>Technicians at North Kansas City (Mo.) Schools have good relationships with the maintenance staff at neighboring operations, enabling them to share ideas.</p>

Sharing and brainstorming with the staff at neighboring operations can also provide invaluable information. Gary Thomsen, transportation manager at Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, Wash., occasionally organizes a forum where technicians in the area get together to discuss issues, and Patrick says her operation’s technicians have an excellent relationship with other school districts’ transportation departments, so they can e-mail or call colleagues to share challenges and possible solutions.

Staff communication is key
Sharing information within one’s own shop during regular staff meetings and/or training sessions can also help technicians solve repair problems.

Duquette has roundtable meetings at his shop where he and the technicians discuss issues that may have come up as they perform their work, and strategies for repairs.

Moreover, French says that for multi-shop operations like Volusia County Schools, communicating repair modifications to all of the shops is critical to make sure that buses are repaired the same way.

“If we have a system or part with a known problem, we look for a better way to make the repair and share that information with all shops,” he says.

Thomsen believes that the way information is shared is important as well. At Evergreen Public Schools, once the maintenance team establishes a best practice for an inspection procedure or repair, they discuss it and then demonstrate it so that everyone can see how it’s done. 

Tips for managing and maintaining your fleet
As was mentioned earlier, the primary component in terms of service to buses that contributes to them running smoothly is a strong PM program. An added bonus of a good PM program, officials say, is that it will lead to cost reductions in the long run.

“Maintaining buses with regularly scheduled maintenance helps to find small things that can be repaired or replaced at minimal expense,” Patrick says. “If this step is not done, those small things can turn into large, expensive repairs.”

Thomsen agrees, and points to evidence from his operation on how preventive work can provide long-term benefits.

“Our cost per mile is at the low end. We have lowered our cost per mile in the last 10 years by having good practices,” he says.

When the maintenance team at Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, Wash., establishes a best practice for an inspection procedure or repair, they discuss it and demonstrate it so everyone can see how it's done.Photo by Thomas Friedmann
<p>When the maintenance team at Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, Wash., establishes a best practice for an inspection procedure or repair, they discuss it and demonstrate it so everyone can see how it's done.<br /> <small>Photo by Thomas Friedmann</small></p>

Performance benchmarking is another important ingredient of effective vehicle maintenance.

“It’s critical for an operation’s supervisor or manager to have a process set up to  measure the quality and the quantity of the work that’s produced,” Thomsen says.

French agrees. “All the best practices in the world remain unproven unless you track the numbers,” he says. “We conduct an annual review of over 100 different benchmarks to track our performance. This helps us determine if our practices work, where we excel and where we need further improvement.”

To assist in assessing performance, officials offer the following tips:

Document everything, including repairs. Burton recommends analyzing equipment for failures and setting up new service intervals based on those failures to help prevent them in the future.

Use automated programs. “It’s a great tool for tracking your costs, locating high-cost vehicles and doing an analysis as to what the maintenance problems might be,” Duquette says. “We also do parts analysis to locate obsolete parts — it helps to maintain our inventory.”

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Read more about: preventive maintenance

Staying current on new technology such as multiplexing and newer exhaust aftertreatment is key. I work for the number two contracter in the country and we really need to get people at the top who understand techs need training and that we need to standardize our fleets to one manufacturer as that would greatly improve down time and streamline our parts inventory. Sadly most senior management at these big bus companys have never stepped foot on a school bus.

Karl Graham    |    Mar 14, 2012 06:30 AM

Having held two ASE master certifications and a transit specilist certifications for years it has helped to keep yourself in check. You find out where your weak spots are with your knowledge and study more to become proficient. Just recently with a 444E computer replacement - would run on 6 cylinders no matter what. You could switch injectors around from a working cylinder and they would then not work. Come to find out International down loaded a program for a 466E into a 444E computer. Then the computer could not and would not re-flash to the correct program. This is a very rare issue but after all your knowledge and training you must have confidence in your abilities to diagnose electronics. With computer well over $1,000 a pop you can't afford to make mistakes. Just so you know study up on the new hybrid type vehicles and follow the warnings so as not to be electrocuted. This is a very serious field to work in automotive anymore. The more you know the better you'll be. Dan Luttrell, Bedford, IN.

Dan Luttrell    |    Mar 09, 2012 08:36 AM

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