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

Q&A: New President Aims at Growth, Group Efforts

As the newly installed president of the NSTA, John Corr has a list of important tasks to take on, including growing the group's presence in Washington, bolstering security training programs and helping members manage high fuel prices.


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At the National School Transportation Association's (NSTA) recent convention in Washington, D.C., John Corr officially took over as the group's president, succeeding Dale Krapf in the two-year term.

Corr, who is also head of Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.-based contractor the TransGroup, will certainly have a lot to keep him busy.

But his strong background in pupil transportation indicates that he's up for the challenge. Among other notable involvements, Corr has served as president of the New York School Bus Contractors Association.

In 2000, SBF named Corr "Contractor of the Year."

SBF Senior Editor Thomas McMahon spoke with Corr about his plans for the next two years and his outlook on the industry.

What are some things you want to accomplish as president of the NSTA?
JOHN CORR: My biggest goal is to continue the work the association has already started. We have a full agenda, and I'm not going to be able to hide behind the successes of the past. The past three presidents are still directly involved in the day-to-day operations of the association. We have a lot of continued strength and fluidity as we move forward.

So Dale Krapf left the association in good shape?
Yes, financially as well as with the many initiatives he had undertaken as president, especially his effort in working with the other national associations. Because of this effort alone, we're confident that we can build on our political presence in Washington, and hopefully we'll gain more federal recognition of the school bus industry as we continue to enhance safety and security.

NSTA has been working much with the other national associations. Do you plan to build on that?
Without a doubt. That is something that started back before Dale with Bill Beck when he was president. It was Dale who reassigned people and reworked the group that would be participating with the other associations. With the help of Michael Cancelliere and David Hillman from IC Corp. as mediators, it enabled us to put the personalities and philosophical challenges aside and to turn participation around.

We just had a meeting out in Reno with the three associations (NSTA, the National Association for Pupil Transportation and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services), and there were some great accomplishments made with a group that hadn't otherwise been together in more than five months. It is my hope that we can make it a point to meet a lot more regularly and work together on the challenges we're facing.

Dale is going to stay on as our representative with the three national associations, along with Terry Thomas, who has been on the committee. Dale will replace Dennis Hammell, who recently passed away. He was involved with a lot of things, like the School Bus Watch program and some of the other initiatives that the three associations have been working on.

Tell me about the NSTA's recent security training conference.
After our convention, we rolled out our first school bus safety and security training seminar, which was held at the National Transportation Safety Board headquarters in Virginia. It was well attended, and it was our first attempt as an association at trying to bring together safety people from companies and school districts to go over some assessments of their operation and how we can tie security aspects into their safety programs.

Was it related to the new School Bus Watch program?
No, it was something we were looking into before School Bus Watch was fully established.

At the NSTA convention, there was a rollout of School Bus Watch before the school bus roadeo. It was attended by all the drivers who were competing and any association members who wanted to sit in on it. It was a very good rollout for the first draft. Hopefully, it will continue to evolve and become more school bus specific and easier for the target audience to relate to.

{+PAGEBREAK+} What are some of the challenges that the NSTA is dealing with right now?
Our greatest challenge is to provide services that our membership is in need of, such as our workers compensation program for companies that would like an option to their own pricing when they go back home to their carriers. Another current challenge is the uncontrollable cost of fuel. We are looking at different fuel-option programs to make available to our members.

Our goal would be to try to answer the challenges in the changing face of the industry. Three years ago, insurance prices were out of control. That seems to have stabilized, but now the costs of fuel and its associated products are skyrocketing.

Within two years, we'll face the changing technological needs associated with the Clean Air Act. The NSTA is trying to provide our members with access to the same federal funds that school districts would be able to use, and we will look for other incentives that will help our members make their vehicles cleaner and safer.

Will your role at the TransGroup change during this tenure?
I don't anticipate there being much change, being that Dale did not replace our executive director while trying to rebuild our finances. We all spent a lot of time on the road to compensate for that. The only way I was able to take on any additional responsiblity is because I am blessed to have an exceptional team at the TransGroup — from Timothy Flood, our executive vice president, to the rest of my leadership team throughout our operations. To some extent, I think they run the company better with me not involved in the day-to-day operations than they do with me there.

Are there plans to bring on an executive director for the NSTA?
There are no immediate plans to hire an executive director. We're just six months into our relationship with the United Motorcoach Association (UMA), who have been a great help in supporting our efforts. Victor Parra, the executive director of UMA, recently brought in Ann Henley to lead our marketing efforts and act as our operations manager. She has picked up a lot of the slack that we needed to take care of. Therese Malambri, our administrative assistant, is still with us as well, having moved into the UMA office. They do an excellent job of complementing Becky Weber of BKSH and Associates, our lobbyists, and Robin Leeds, our industry expert.

What effect has the UMA relationship had with the NSTA?
We only see benefit when philosophically aligned private operators in transportation work together. One such coalition that has bloomed in working with the UMA included private transit, private motorcoach, private school bus and taxi cab operators dealing with the impending threat of transit encroachment and expansion into the charter bus business. With that threat, we were able to join forces and speak with one voice. Hopefully, this will create a model for any future concerns that face the private transportation sector.

What do you enjoy most about the school bus industry?
I am second generation in the industry. The biggest kick I get is that my son, who is now 21, is becoming more involved in our operations. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, having him involved will free me up even more so I can continue to help realize changes to our industry.

There is great satisfaction when you transport tens of thousands of children daily with few or no incidents that affect their safety. This helps keep us focused on our goals of providing safe, efficient, cost-effective transportation for our customers.

What accomplishment from your career are you most proud of?
I was part of a team in New York that got the RFP (request for proposals) option to the bidding process in our state in the late '90s. With the RFP, your proposal is judged on the qualities of the company from a scoring mechanism in which price is a factor, but not the only option as in a bid basis. You can benchmark district concerns, tailor it to the concerns of that locale and review each proposal on the merit of the company. The district can then go back and check their quality of service. New York state also has some benchmarks for performance in its Department of Transportation with a system called BUSNET, which scores your pass/fail rate on your inspection process. The RFP gives you the ability to take aspects like that into account.

The other thing was working early on as government relations chair with the NSTA team of Becky and Ronna Weber. We were able to start changing how we approached doing business in Washington. With Terry Thomas as their chair now, they've taken that to a whole new level.

Anything else you'd like to mention?
One thing I should add is that the NSTA is looking to work more closely with our supplier partners in the industry, including the media. SCHOOL BUS FLEET has been extremely supportive of our efforts with recognitions like the Contractor of the Year award and with giving media attention to our concerns. We hope to build on these types of partnerships and involve more people in more of the goings-on of our association. It's a team effort, not just a handful of people that will direct the association as we move forward.


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