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March 12, 2010  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Rough road ahead?

We found from speaking with executives at school bus contractor companies featured in the March issue's contractor roundtable that competition is "brutal" and prices being quoted are lower now than ever before.

by Claire Atkinson - Also by this author


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Everyone is anxious to know where the U.S. economy is going, whether you’re a wealthy investor trying to predict the stock market or a blue collar worker hoping to hold onto your job.

For our contractor roundtable appearing in this issue, we got in touch with executives from several school bus contractor companies to take stock of the state of the business and issues of concern on a local level as well as nationwide.

School bus contractors are uniquely affected by a down economy; on one hand, their clients — the school districts — are hugely affected by budget cuts, with state reimbursements on the decline and drastic cuts being made to all segments of the education system. As one contractor put it, buses are coming off the road no matter what. On the other hand, fewer jobs overall means a larger pool of unemployed people to hire drivers from, meaning a better selection and potentially better employees.

State of the business

Competition is “brutal” and “cutthroat” these days, according to the contractors we spoke to, who noted that prices being quoted are lower now than perhaps they ever have been before.

And the economy is not the only item of concern. Contractors are also dealing with the EPA’s engine requirements for 2010 and trying to choose between EGR and SCR for the next new buses they buy. They are fighting issues on the legislative front, both in the states where they operate and at the national level.

Despite all this, their pride in the service they provide remains strong. Terry Thomas, president of Community Bus Services in Youngstown, Ohio, and a member of SBF’s editorial advisory board, said he would like to see more people look at the entrepreneurial aspect of becoming a contractor.

“It represents the American Dream because it allows us to be in our own business,” he says. “I think that if more people would look to this as an enterprise, school districts would have more options and, of course, there’s the business opportunity for the entrepreneur who wants to engage in it.”

Looking ahead

We will all be watching for positive economic indicators throughout 2010 and in years to come. At SBF, we would like to hear from you: As a contractor, what indicators do you see that tell you things are headed in a positive direction? If you work for a public school district, will it be another year or two before positive economic changes will have an impact on school budgets?

Luckily for all of us, at the end of the day we know we’re supporting an important industry responsible for getting children to school — an integral part of the education system. Some say that education is the key to changing the economic prospects of a nation. For that reason, we must hope that both private industry and the U.S. government will work to direct funds toward school transportation to turn the tide and put yellow buses back on the road. For many, a ride to school makes all the difference in the world.


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