In January, I will officially have 25 years of experience in the public school bus transportation industry. As I reach this milestone, I have indulged myself in reviewing the route that I have chosen.
As I look back, I think it’s an excellent opportunity to reflect on how much breadth and depth this industry really has. It is so often taken for granted.
When I first accepted my position in transportation, I thought that I would not find it all that interesting. After working in the social services field for many years, I was attracted to the idea that I might be a little bored. I thought it would be great to only have to deal with buses running on time.
I was impressed whenever I drove past a beautifully arranged row of yellow school buses facing a city street. I would imagine how much I’d like to work there someday. I thought that if I ever admitted this to any of my friends, they’d look at me as if I was a little off.
It’s about time, though, that we reveal that school busing is anything but boring. It is not just about a bunch of buses lined up in a perfect row and arriving at stops on time.
That is what we want the public to think, but we know it’s more. A whole lot more.
The first pickup and beyond
Before a driver even hops on the bus, he or she has to study the route.
Like everyone else, I learned the politics and the players, the policies and the practices, the paperwork, the personnel and payroll. All the “P” words.
Then came the “Qs.”
I learned hiring, training, routing, special education, bus maintenance, union relations and discipline. I learned about ITS (intelligent transportation systems), report writing, state statutes, local traffic laws, school bus requirements and ordering, budgets and planning. I learned workers’ compensation, leaves, unemployment, court issues, employee assistance, drug testing, licensing requirements and safe driver plans.
Soon I was initiated into accident and incident reporting. I learned investigative procedures: taking pictures of accident scenes, locating witnesses, checking the insides of civilian cars to see what the motorist might have been doing at the time of impact.
I worked with outside agencies such as police departments, insurance companies and attorneys. I gave testimony in court hearings. I learned about accident review committees and driver retraining.
I rode on buses, learned correct radio usage, the bus rules, how to operate a lift and secure a wheelchair, what a safety vest was, what to do at railroad crossings, how to make a proper student stop, what constitutes a safe student pickup, how to manage difficult students, how to use referrals and more.
Maintaining a facility became part of the mix: custodial concerns, supplies, safety and security issues, equipment and clerical needs.
Meetings were added to the repertoire: meetings with drivers and attendants, transportation staff, parents, school administrators and Exceptional Student Education staff. With this latter group, I explored alternate ways of helping special-needs students: using headphones (music can be so soothing), positive reinforcement (baseball cards for good bus rides), helmets for children, pillows to soothe children and more.
I learned the art of listening. I learned to find mutually beneficial solutions. I learned patience and perseverance.
Few outsiders will ever learn about, or come to appreciate, all of transportation’s complexities and nuances.
And this is only the first run of the route. My district usually has three runs on each bus route.