SAN DIEGO — The importance of writing proper bus specifications was emphasized by Charlie Hood, Florida’s state pupil transportation director, during a session at the 38th annual conference of the California Association of School Transportation Officials in San Diego.
Whether they’re written at the local or state level, bus specifications need to be developed with several considerations in mind: safety, student and public health, lifecycle cost, maintenance concerns, driver ergonomics, budget limitations and public expectation.
In Florida, Hood said, the state specification writing committee is considering a proposal to name a full-time bus driver to the panel. His or her input would help to ensure that buses are set up to meet the unique and specific needs of drivers. “Successful spec’ing depends on user input and acceptance,” he said. “Improved driver ergonomics are becoming more and more important every day.”
The needs of maintenance staff also need to be recognized during the spec’ing process. Hood said the goal is to reduce labor time required by each bus and to minimize lifecycle costs. To calculate these labor and lifecycle costs, operators need to examine their repair records and shop data, especially related to cost, and to compare notes with colleagues.
Routing personnel should provide input as well. Their concerns would be reflected in the specifications involving passenger capacity, vehicle maneuverability and student behavior-related features such as air conditioning. Hood said about 90 percent of Florida’s buses are spec’d with air conditioning units, which help to keep student tempers in check during hot-weather months.
Other interested parties include the bus manufacturers and their component suppliers. Hood emphasized that specs should not be written in a vacuum. “They must be feasible and achievable,” he said. Putting too many unusual options into specs can be counterproductive. “I think we’re inadvertently shooting ourselves in the foot,” Hood said. “Let’s make sure that we really need these things on our buses.”
Hood provided a summary of the specification process in Florida. Specs may be proposed by any party. They are then researched by a committee of experts. Performance versus design specs are considered. In general, Hood said, design specs can be unnecessarily restrictive and can become obsolete sooner.
The specs are then proposed to the Florida Association for Pupil Transportation, which sanctions them and forwards them to the Florida Department of Education. From there, they go to the state Board of Education for adoption. After the specs are adopted and published, they must be communicated with sufficient notice to bus bidders, builders and suppliers.
Once an order has been placed, the next step is to inspect the buses as they’re being built at the factory. The plant inspection is the buyer’s opportunity to ensure that the vehicles are constructed according to the specs. Hood said the inspection team must include purchasers. Finally, every bus should be inspected by the purchaser upon delivery.