BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Barker Bus Co. has launched a fleet replenishment plan that will have the school bus contractor turning over its entire fleet every five years.
Don Bickel, interim operations manager, told SBF that the program will be a key part of attaining the company's new mission: "To be the premier student transportation provider in the state of New Jersey." The company also has a new theme: "Our customers come first — always!"
"We’ve been a company with 75 or 80 big buses every year, and we’ve had them for a very long time," Bickel said. "I came to the company with a couple of other retirees who came out of the business world who said, 'There may be a better way to look at things.' We started to ask the question as to whether it was cost-effective to continue to maintain buses when they hit the seven-, eight-, nine-, 10-year cycle."
Bickel said they convinced Barker Bus owner Peter Chesson that it made sense both in maintenance costs and from a customer-service perspective to replace buses earlier.
"If all of the vehicles went out of here with a luster still in them and they aren’t all banged up from 10 years of service, it might change the perception of the company," Bickel said.
Chesson decided to replace one-fifth of the fleet with new buses this summer, with the plan of doing the same over the following four summers. Then, no bus will be more than five years old.
In the sixth summer, the first-year buses will be replaced with new buses, and so on.
"We’re basically on a 20% fleet replenishment every year," Bickel said. "It’s focused on the customer-service aspect, and we get the benefit of the savings on maintenance."
He noted that the residual value of whatever loan is outstanding at the end of the five years will be lower than the market value of the buses, so the company will make money when selling them. That money will then be used to pay down the cost of replenishing buses in the following year.
The new buses will have air conditioning, tinted windows, child safety alarms, cameras and GPS technology to assist in route performance and monitoring.
"At the end of five years," Bickel said, "when all the big buses are no older than five years, we will save just under $250,000 per year in maintenance costs alone."
Bickel added that Barker Bus plans to focus on its hiring processes and retraining the existing workforce to enhance its customer focus.