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March 01, 2002  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

SBF Showcase: Top Contractor Fleets

In this, our second edition of SBF Showcase, we highlight some of the largest and most successful school bus contractors in the nation.

by Sandra Matke, Managing Editor, and Joan Hong, Editorial Assistant


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First Student Inc.

Fleet composition: 15,000 school buses
Drivers: 19,000
Students transported daily: 1,000,000
School district contracts: 500
President: Bruce Lyskawa
Website: www.firststudentinc.com
Phone: (800) 844-5588

CINCINNATI — First Student is responsible for transporting more than 1 million students to and from school each day on a fleet of approximately 15,000 school buses. Operating in 33 U.S. states and Canada, the services First Student offers include: full turnkey contracting, special-needs transportation, bus leasing and maintenance, management contracting, sports and field trip services and coach services. No matter what the service, student safety is the company’s top priority. “We are passionate about safety. It is our first priority and moral obligation at all times,” says president Bruce Lyskawa. With safety in mind, First Student invests in top-notch driver training and equipment, often surpassing minimum state safety requirements. “We recommend the use of crossing control arms on all buses even when not required by state law,” notes Carey Paster, senior vice president of operations. “We have experienced a large decline of student injuries as a result.” In the area of vehicle maintenance, Paster says the company’s goal is to get a score of no less than 100 percent on all state inspections. And First Student’s local operators often hit the mark. For three years in a row the Rochester, Wash., location of First Student received perfect marks on state inspections. “Anything related to safety is taken care of before it ever becomes a problem,” says technician Stan Canaday. In addition to pre-employment and in-service training, First Student’s drivers are required to participate in monthly safety meetings. “With an organizational culture that is geared to customer service and safety, we take great pride in ensuring that professional, well-trained and qualified drivers are available to cover all routes,” says Paster. Driver trainers and safety coordinators ensure safety standards are met and, if possible, exceeded. In Rochester, First Student drivers get more than the three hours of state-mandated training annually. They are given specialized lessons in defensive driving, caring for special-needs passengers, winter driving, emergency evacuation and more. First Student’s 19,000 drivers are entitled to medical, life and dental insurance, a 401K plan, holiday and vacation packages and various incentives. At the St. Paul, Minn., location last year, exemplary drivers received awards and media recognition via a “Cool School Bus Salute” program. The program enabled parents, students and other community members to select deserving drivers for recognition. “I view it as an inspiration to help drivers do their jobs well,” says winning driver Juedi Lapowski-Alexander. First Student Inc. is an operating unit of FirstGroup plc, a worldwide public transportation company with annual revenues of approximately $3.5 billion. First Group’s U.S. operations, including First Student, are organized under FirstGroup America Inc. (formerly Ryder Public Transportation Services), which provides student transportation, public transit and public fleet maintenance services to more than 800 customers nationwide.

Laidlaw Education Services

Fleet composition: 40,000 school buses
Staff: 47,000
Students transported daily: 2.4 million
School district contracts: 1,000+
Miles traveled annually: 428 million+
U.S. locations: 550+
President: John Grainger
Website: www.laidlawschoolbus.com
Phone: (800) LAIDLAW

NAPERVILLE, Ill. - The school bus drivers at Laidlaw Education Services go the distance to ensure the children of North America get to and from school safely each day. In fact they travel more than 428 million miles a year in hopes of a smile from every child they greet when they open the school bus doors. It is their commitment to safety that makes certain the nation’s future arrives at their destination on time and makes Laidlaw an industry leader. Laidlaw Education Services, based in Naperville, Ill., transports 2.4 million school children to and from school each day using a fleet of more than 40,000 school buses. As the largest private contractor of student transportation in North America, Laidlaw provides student transportation services from more than 550 locations throughout 35 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces and serves more than 1,000 school districts. Operationally, the company prides itself on passenger safety as its top priority. Laidlaw is always working to enhance its safety training initiatives, secure expert mechanics and locate the safest and most cost effective routes to and from school in order to meet its customers needs. “Safety is our number one focus,” says John Grainger, president of Laidlaw Education Services. “Well maintained buses and training our employees to be safety-conscious will result in children getting to and from school safely on our buses.” More than 47,000 bus drivers and attendants, dispatchers, technicians, mechanics and managers are dedicated to making Laidlaw the best it can be in every community it serves. As an ongoing effort to make the children in the communities it serves safe and well, Laidlaw maintains a partnership with Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) and other community-based programs. The company’s employees, through the kindness of community support, have raised nearly $1.3 million for CMN in the last few years to help kids receive treatment at one of 170 hospitals throughout North America. The company chose to support CMN because 100 percent of locally generated donations stay in the community in which they were made to benefit children at participating hospitals. As the company moves forward, it is working diligently to bring safe, quality and reliable service to other new communities across the continent. “We are working with these new school systems and others because we believe we can increase safety for everyone involved and provide a cost-effective alternative to the way they currently run their transportation programs,” says Grainger.

Student Transportation of America

Fleet composition: 2,000 vehicles
Students transported daily: 152,000
School district contracts: 65
Chairman/CEO: Denis J. Gallagher
Website: www.ridesta.com
Phone: (888) 942-2250

HOWELL, N.J. — In less than five years, Student Transportation of America Inc. (STA) has emerged as the second-largest private provider of contracted school bus transportation and management services in the United States. The company currently operates and manages more than 65 major contracts in seven states, serving both public and private institutions with a fleet of more than 2,000 vehicles. Even in a difficult market, STA secured a new $87 million equity and debt financing package last October, with plans to continue its regional-based growth strategy in target markets across the country. This strategy was part of management’s original vision in founding the company. “We will continue to focus on rural and suburban markets where our tremendous growth potential as a local company, coupled with the resources and expertise of a national company, are a winning combination,” says Denis J. Gallagher, chairman and CEO. Gallagher attributes STA’s strength to the vast experience of his management team, which consists of nine operating executives who each have almost 20 years of industry know-how. He also values strong leadership and initiative at the local level. “Our philosophy is that decisions in this business are made locally and we operate in the towns we serve as a local, hometown company,” he explains. “Our regional teams have ownership in the company and represent us in the most professional way as a local business in that community.” Last year, the Northeast regional team promoted safety at the local level by participating in a safety fair at a New Jersey private school, where they gave tips to parents on safety and the danger zones of the bus and performed evacuation drills. “We encouraged parents to be out there at stops, to teach their kids right from wrong, and to get more involved with busing problems and situations,” recalls Denise Graham, division manager. The program garnered positive feedback, and STA decided to beef it up and extend it into the local public school system during National School Bus Safety Week October 14-27. Added to the program was a “Be Cool on the School Bus” video that the company produced in-house. The up-to-date video is geared toward elementary school students and hits all the safety objectives important to STA. A question-and-answer session was conducted following the video. Another component of the program was a poster contest the regional office developed to get the younger kids involved. The contest was judged on originality, and winners received certificates from the company as well as gift certificates. Graham says the program will be offered every year. STA’s safety record continues to be better than the national statistics. Management has developed a corporate culture focused on passenger safety and service. Toward this goal, the company employs more than 65 state-certified school safety instructors who, in collaboration with management, are responsible for the implementation of safety and training programs. The company believes that its emphasis on passenger safety is a competitive advantage and a major contributor to its success in winning new contracts.


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