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May 27, 2010  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Large Bus Showcase 2010

Here, we spotlight three exemplary school bus dealerships. Read about their interesting histories, their commitment to the customer and their insights on the 2010 engine technology. Look for details on the latest Type C and D models in the June print issue.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author


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In addition to being a full-line Thomas Built dealer, Nelson’s provides transportation services for two school districts.

Thomas Built Buses

Dealer Spotlight: Nelson's Bus Service

Whitewater, Wis.

Nelson’s Bus Service Inc. has a rare perspective in the pupil transportation industry: Not only is it a Thomas Built school bus dealer, it’s a school bus contractor as well.

Chris Arnett, president of the Whitewater, Wis.-based company, says that this dual nature provides a number of advantages.

“Every day, we have very similar experiences to those of our customers — we rely on those buses to be durable and safe,” Arnett says.

Another benefit is that the company has spare buses in its fleet that customers can use as loaner vehicles when needed. There are also opportunities for customers to try out a different type or configuration of bus from what they currently have.

If, for example, they have only Type C buses in their fleet, “they can get experience with a Type D,” Arnett says. “They can train with it, take it on a route, use it in the real world.”

Another key benefit that Nelson’s Bus Service provides customers is its knowledge and experience.

“We can offer some expertise as to how to apply certain contracting or operational principles,” Arnett says. “We continue to get asked, ‘What would you guys do?’”

A history of service

The company began in 1940 as a school bus repair business, and founder W.C. Nelson built his first bus at his Shell service station. Then came the initiation of a contract to provide transportation services for Whitewater Unified School District, which the company continues to serve today.

Nelson’s also now contracts with McFarland School District, outside of Madison. In all, the company is responsible for transporting more than 2,000 students to and from school each day.

In 1974, Nelson’s became a full-line Thomas Built Buses dealership. In 1997, its territory grew to encompass the entire state of Wisconsin, upper Michigan and northern Illinois.

The company currently has two facilities — one in Whitewater and one in McFarland — as well as a mobile service vehicle, which can go to a customer’s site to perform everything from simple warranty procedures to major repairs.

“We feel that it reduces customers’ costs,” Arnett says of the vehicle. “It certainly has been well received.”

Due to the success of the first edition, the company is now building a second mobile service vehicle, this one with an onboard power supply.

Proven performance

Thomas Built buses are using SCR (selective catalytic reduction) to meet the EPA’s 2010 emissions standards. Arnett says that along with being proven technology — having already been tested in other markets — SCR is a simpler approach.

“It’s aftertreatment, so the majority of the base engine is unchanged,” Arnett says. “That simplifies it, especially for the technicians.”

Nelson’s has had a pre-production SCR-equipped Saf-T-Liner® C2 since early January. The company has held several SCR demonstration events in addition to doing its own testing of the technology.

“It has performed flawlessly, even in some sub-zero weather conditions,” Arnett says.

Focus on partnerships

Last year, Nelson’s earned a gold dealer award from Thomas Built. The award recognizes outstanding performance in service, parts support and bus sales.

The family business, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, is now in its third generation of ownership.

Arnett notes that when the dealership was launched, the company decided not to change its name from the original Nelson’s Bus Service.

“Leaving ‘Service’ in our name showcases what we’re all about,” Arnett says. “We don’t feel that we’re just a contractor, just a dealer. We view it as a partnership. Our goal is to develop that long-term relationship.”

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