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September 20, 2013  |   Comments (4)   |   Post a comment

How Thomas, First Student are working toward a better bus

First Student and Thomas Built Buses’ partnership hinges on a high level of collaboration and transparency. Their efforts are helping both companies become more efficient and make improvements that could benefit the entire industry.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author


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Sharing internal data
Along with the shift to a greater volume of business between First Student and Thomas Built, the companies made a commitment to increase the flow of information both ways.

"Our partnership is built on trust and transparency," Burtwistle says. "We share confidential data with each other regarding demand and usage, environmental impact, upcoming contracts and legislative changes."

One important part of the information sharing is forecasts. As an anecdotal example, if First Student advises that it is going to replace 30% more buses next year, Thomas Built can use this information to improve production and inventory schedules.

Thomas Built can prepare for First Student's demand, enabling the manufacturer to maintain a steady production cycle instead of having big spikes in the spring and summer and fewer buses to build in the fall and winter.

  • Thomas Built’s Kelley Platt (left) and First Student’s Linda Burtwistle say that their companies’ collaboration can benefit the entire industry. For example, they are working to come up with better models for school bus replacement.
    <p>Thomas Built’s Kelley Platt (left) and First Student’s Linda Burtwistle say that their companies’ collaboration can benefit the entire industry. For example, they are working to come up with better models for school bus replacement.</p>
    "An even production cycle can ensure we receive our buses when we need them, and would allow Thomas to keep a steady skilled workforce in place, reducing peak work and layoffs," Burtwistle explains. "This should reduce costs for everyone involved."


Another key transparency in the companies' relationship: First Student shares its maintenance schedules and records with Thomas Built, which aids in efforts to increase parts longevity and to drive down maintenance costs.
The two companies are also combining their knowledge to come up with better models and processes for school bus replacement.

"We are looking at ways to help fleet managers better assess when their buses may need to be replaced," Platt says. "This will help fleet managers better manage their budget and future plans, but also help us to gain visibility into when new buses are needed in order to maximize the efficiency of the procurement cycle."

Making a better bus
One of the goals of the partnership is to find ways to make school buses safer and more efficient. Here again, communication comes into play. For instance, First Student gives Thomas Built an extra layer of "eyes and ears on the ground," as Platt puts it.

"First Student provides us with additional insight into what customers are saying, what they are asking for, major issues that are arising and overall trends in the industry," Platt says. "This insight, along with our own internal expertise, helps us pinpoint ways to improve and to ultimately provide even better, safer and more efficient buses."

In addition to executive-level meetings, Thomas Built and First Student collaborate on what they call a "cab committee," in which experts from both companies sit down and discuss vehicle issues, such as the ergonomics of the cabin and where the driver switches are positioned.

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Read more about: First Student Inc., Thomas Built Buses

Hey Sherry, I too work for First Student and have determined there strategy is to say one thing and do another. They are a private corporation that does everything they can to convince the public of their safe operations, but when it comes to budgeting, everything goes to the top. The bottom where we work is left wanting. The budget for the maintenance department is wholly underfunded and at our location in the West, a big show is made, but they don't even have a functional wash rack and we drive dirty buses. If a company is so about an image, you would think at least they would invest in keeping their buses clean. Instead they will pay us minimum wage up to an hour to wash our exteriors. Getting maintenance work done on our buses is like pulling teeth without anesthetic.

JJCantcatchit    |    Nov 16, 2013 06:54 AM

And for what it's worth, you can spec a p/a system without spec'ing an am/fm radio.

Bob    |    Oct 06, 2013 05:30 PM

I too work for First Stundent and the complaints list by Sherry are serious but may/are not Corporate's fault. The first complaint: no P.A.'s (We don't have any internal P.A.s here)is their location's Mgr or region's Mgr mistake when the spec'ed the new buses. The second one, high seat backs, is a federal standard for ALL school buses.

Bill Russell    |    Oct 01, 2013 06:00 AM

I have an issue with the way First Student says they are looking to improve the safety of the buses from the drivers standpoint. First off, I'm an Instructor for a First Student location in Moultonboro, NH. At my location we received some of these new Thomas Saf-T Liner buses, they came through with no AM/FM radio, which means the driver doesn't have an INTERIOR microphone to communicate with students, who, by the way, now sit in seats that are so high, the driver can't even see them, unless they're in the isle or standing up in their seats. It is impossible for the driver to get the bus quieted down when they don't even hear you when trying to speak to them. The manager will not put the radio's in the bus, at a cost, remember they came through with nothing, unless it is written in the school contract that the buses be equipped with INTERIOR microphones. This is absurd, coming from a company that says their motto is, "IF YOU CAN'T DO IT SAFELY, DON'T DO IT".

Sherry Marceau    |    Sep 25, 2013 04:05 PM

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