Middleton gives an example of a door switch that was located to the left of the driver, making the driver look away from the door when opening it. "By including team members from various disciplines, we identify and address improvements at a very early stage," he says.
"We don't want a driver looking to the left when the door is to the right," Burtwistle adds.
Some of First Student's driver trainers have been involved in the cab committee, and feedback from drivers also feeds into the efforts.
Both companies note that improvements that come out of their collaborations will benefit the wider pupil transportation community.
"These innovations will not be limited to First Student’s use," Burtwistle says. "They will be utilized by the industry as a whole ... [and] will benefit our communities and students through safer, more efficient and reliable buses."
A new standard
First Student's parent company, Aberdeen, Scotland-based FirstGroup, has earned British Standard 11000 for its supplier relationship management program.
Middleton says that when he talked with his FirstGroup counterparts in the U.K. about the supplier relationship management program, he realized that First Student and Thomas Built were “already well on the road to achieving this recognized standard.”
First Student's own supplier relationship program works to keep costs down and to verify that the company is doing business with suppliers that, for example, maintain ethical and environmental standards. It also targets continued performance improvement.
"Both Thomas Built Buses and First Student share a common business philosophy on continuous improvement — both within our own respective companies and within the industry as a whole," Platt says.
There is no current ISO standard on supplier relationship management to recognize partnerships like that of Thomas Built and First Student. But the companies have been advocating for ISO to develop a comparable standard for the benefit of the industry.
"It's a great way of formalizing that relationship," Middleton says, adding that the new ISO standard could be "only a few months away."
Thomas Built and First Student also see their partnership as a platform to benefit the school bus industry in the legislative arena. Burtwistle calls this "a logical next step in the partnership."
"We’ll work directly through our legislative channels as well as through organizations such as the National School Transportation Association [NSTA] to push the safety and technology enhancements that our customers need and deserve," Burtwistle says.
As an example, Platt says that Thomas Built and First Student worked with NSTA to advocate for a larger federal allocation for Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants, which support the purchase of new, lower-emission vehicles and the retrofitting of older vehicles.
Platt says that the partnership provides "an excellent opportunity to work together with our local governments to uphold standards that are important to us as an industry."
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First Student Inc., Thomas Built Buses