Christopher Bluett (middle, in blue suit) has led the Hanover Park Regional High School District's transportation department to be the most efficient in New Jersey for the third year in a row.
Hanover Park Regional High School District
East Hanover, N.J.
Tiered routes lead to top efficiency ratings
While Hanover Park Regional High School District’s transportation department can count many successes, Transportation Director Christopher Bluett says the department’s standout success is its efficiency.
The department, located in East Hanover, N.J., was rated most efficient transportation department in the state for the third year in a row. Scoring is based on the number of students transported as compared to the number of seats in the buses used to transport them.
“When I got here, the question was: How can we be more efficient?” Bluett says. Having served in a committee on school business efficiency, he planned out and implemented school time adjustments and had drivers trained in all aspects of transportation.
By changing school times by about 15 minutes, buses could serve multiple schools, one after another. Dismissals were tweaked as well, and this allowed a two-hour window for routes that average about four schools. In addition, cross-training enables drivers to rotate and cover additional work when needed.
Bluett emphasizes that it’s the cooperation of the staff and everyone involved that has led to the success of the changes. “One person can come up with a plan, but it takes everyone to implement it,” he says. “For this plan to work, you need the cooperation of the driver, of the individual schools and their administrations, as well as our own people in-house.”
Drivers play their part by providing feedback about how a route is working. The schools were flexible with making changes to their schedules, and special-needs schools provided schedules far in advance for routing purposes. The athletic department and schools taking field trips keep bus schedules in mind when planning an event.
Two mechanics service the 40-vehicle fleet, and buses are kept at the maximum 12-year cycle. In addition to twice-yearly inspections by the state, vehicles are inspected quarterly, or every 3,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Green initiatives include the use of synthetic oils. Instead of changing the engine oil every 3,000 miles, mechanics test it at regular intervals and change the oil only when necessary. “The benefits have been two-fold,” Bluett says. “We use about one- third the oil, saving money and reducing waste oil to one-third what it would otherwise be. We can also detect engine problems earlier and prevent catastrophic engine failures.”
The department follows New Jersey’s three-minute idling law, with signs to remind drivers. In addition, block heaters for diesel buses and heated mirrors help warm up the vehicles and defrost windows and mirrors without violating anti-idling regulations. Closed crankcase emission equipment was recently added to buses to cut down on emissions from exhaust.
Bluett says the department’s staff members have a genuine concern for each other, which helps maintain almost no turnover. “When you build up the importance of what’s being done, people value it, and they, in turn, talk to others,” he says. “People want to work here. That’s the best recruitment tool you can ever have, and it’s the best retention tool.”
Bluett stresses that improved efficiency does not mean a lag in safety. In fact, drivers receive a safety bonus for going a full year without a preventable accident, a bonus that nearly all drivers receive. Of efficiency and safety, Bluett says, “We’ve found they’re two sides of the same coin.”
— THI DAO
School buses: 40
Students transported daily: 3,000
Schools served: 40
Transportation staff: 42
Area of service: 50 sq. miles