With age comes wisdom. If that old saw is true, Mid Columbia Bus Co. of Pendleton, Ore., is indeed wise because the company has been providing quality student transportation for more than four decades in the Pacific Northwest. In recognition of its longstanding commitment to customer service, community support and industry involvement, Mid Columbia (MIDCO) was named SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s 1999 Contractor of the Year. The presentation was made July 13 at the National School Transportation Association’s annual convention in Charleston, S.C. Doug Flatt, MIDCO’s vice president of administration, accepted the award from SBF Publisher Frank Di Giacomo.
At the core of MIDCO’s success is its family-style management, which is a natural outgrowth of its organizational structure. In addition to Doug, MIDCO relies on two of his brothers: Bruce, vice president of operations at the Condon, Ore., terminal, and Jeff, a location manager in Twin Falls, Idaho. “One of the key factors is that it’s a family operation with family cooperation,” explains Doug. “The family is spread throughout the operation and that enables us to impact the way we operate.” For the 1998-99 school year, MIDCO operated 477 vehicles for 23 school districts in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The company is divided into four divisions that transport more than 12,800 students daily. In addition to pupil transportation service, the company also provides motorcoach charter service and contracts with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide shuttle service for emergency evacuations. It also operates a NAPA auto parts store and provides janitorial services for one school district.
More growth planned
With such a wide array of services, long-range planning is a key concern at MIDCO. “Successfully managing a growing pupil transportation business does not occur if you have to think about what is happening every hour of every day,” Flatt says. “It comes as a result of thinking about what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month or next year.” Over the next five years the company expects to grow by 50 to 75 percent. Flatt says the expansion will be based on four strategies — public bids, acquisitions, conversions and increased marketing of its motorcoach services to school districts. This long-range growth objective is ambitious, but the company already has come a long way since launching its school bus service in 1956 with a two-route contract at Condon (Ore.) School District. To this day, more than 43 years later, MIDCO still operates school buses for the Condon School District, which has been happy with the collaboration. “They’re great people to work with. They’re very thorough, very organized,” says Dr. Randy Powell, superintendent of Condon School District. “They give to the community and support all the different rural and civic activities. That’s just Mid Columbia.” Bill Flatt — the father of Doug, Bruce and Jeff — deserves the credit for launching the school bus company. The family business, called Flatt’s Truck Service, originally hauled only freight, including mail for the Union Pacific Railroad in eastern Oregon. These freight and mail trucks had small passenger compartments located in the front section. In 1944, the company decided to use these compartments to transport passengers between small communities and various train stations along the Union Pacific line. Twelve years later, with some experience in passenger transportation, Bill Flatt and his wife Peggie successfully bid on the Condon School District contract. Over the next four decades, MIDCO expanded its school bus operation through contract bidding and acquisitions. These days, Bill Flatt, president of MIDCO, is semi-retired but stays involved in company business.
‘See for yourself’
To build the support and trust of the school districts they serve, MIDCO takes an active role in getting to know them and what their needs are. For example, MIDCO occasionally conducts “See For Yourself” tours in which school officials ride morning bus routes and get a chance to evaluate drivers, routes and students. After the routes are completed, the school officials are treated to breakfast prepared and served by MIDCO’s bus drivers. “We provide customers with other opportunities to work directly with all levels of the company for the purpose of discussing and recommending how we can better serve their needs,” says Flatt. The company takes pride in meeting its customers’ needs for safe and reliable transportation. “MIDCO has better than a 99.8 percent success ratio in effectively and safely completing routes and trips,” Flatt says. “I feel that our record in this area sets a standard of excellence not only for rural contractors, but for school bus contractors nationwide.” Employees are key Another reason for the company’s success is the care it shows for its employees. “MIDCO’s outstanding employees are the key to our success,” Flatt says. “They are provided with a safe and fun environment to work in, they’re recognized for their efforts and rewarded for their achievements.” Flatt says MIDCO treats its staff as one of its most valuable resources. “We meet quarterly with all of our staff,” he says. “Those aren’t just meetings for the sake of meetings; they’re training sessions. We bring people in from the outside and review our operations and talk to the staff about what it is they do and where they have problems or concerns, and we key in on those issues.” Flatt says the company has never had any formal grievances, labor disputes or disruptions in service in its 43 years in school transportation. “We believe that this reflects upon the quality of our employees and the overall family atmosphere that is such a big part of all MIDCO operations,” he says.