FORT VALLEY, Ga. — In early September, Blue Bird Body Co. notified 719 owners of its All American FE school bus (manufactured between February 1999 and August 2000) that the vehicles needed to be taken out of service until a pinch bolt in the steering assembly could be replaced. The recall affects 1,710 buses in the United States and Canada, according to Doug Freeman, the company’s director of quality control. “It’s the first time we’ve forced buses out of service until they could be repaired,” Freeman said, adding that the recall was sparked by the report of a bus that lost steering control. Blue Bird officials researched the problem and determined that a pinch bolt in the steering slip-shaft assemblies may not have been properly torqued. “We felt that we didn’t have any choice but to take those buses out of service,” Freeman said. Freeman said Blue Bird employees and distributors worked around the clock to ensure that customers received replacement bolts within hours of the recall notification. He said some distributors chartered planes and flew to the airport in Perry, Ga., where bolts were waiting to be taken back to their locations. “It went 24 hours around the clock both here in Fort Valley and our distributor locations,” he said. “It’s the most amazing thing we’ve ever done in terms of a recall.” The Blue Bird recall number is R00EF. For more information, contact Bill Coleman at Blue Bird at 912/822-2242.
SAGINAW, Texas — Honesty. Respect. Dependability. Durham Transportation has found a creative way of reinforcing the character curriculum being taught at the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw School District near Fort Worth. “We were trying to think of some way we could partner with the school district besides just doing transportation,” said Michelle Wallace, Durham’s director of public relations. Last year the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw School District implemented a character curriculum in all classes. Throughout the year, teachers focus on six specific character traits: honesty, integrity, caring, respect, citizenship and dependability. The teacher introduces a word and the significance is discussed in class. The learning sessions are quick, often lasting five to 10 minutes. This year, bus drivers and teachers are wearing T-shirts once a month imprinted with the slogan “Be a Character.” Monthly schedules of character topics being discussed in the classroom are handed out to drivers, giving them an idea of the traits to discuss with the children. Drivers will also recognize children who illustrate the featured traits. If honesty is the topic of discussion in the classroom that month, the driver can recognize a child who displays that trait on the bus. “Our philosophy is that the school bus is really an extension of the classroom and our drivers are always looking for new ways to build a relationship with the kids,” said Wallace.
BYRON CENTER, Mich. — A school bus driver was killed Monday, Sept. 11, when her bus was rammed by a tractor-trailer at an intersection in Byron Center, Mich. A high school special-education student was injured in the crash, reportedly suffering a ruptured spleen, broken leg and a bump on the head. He was the only passenger on the bus. According to the Grand Rapids Press, a witness told police that the bus driver, 54-year-old Patricia Henry, touched her brakes and then proceeded southbound through a stop sign, apparently unaware that a semi truck driven by 51-year-old James Woodard was approaching the intersection from the east and did not have a stop sign in his direction. Woodard was uninjured in the collision, which knocked the vehicles into fields on the opposite sides of the road. Henry was employed by Dean Transportation, a school bus contractor based in Lansing, Mich. A press release issued by Kellie Dean, president of Dean Transportation, said it was the company’s first fatal crash in 30 years of operation. “We are devastated,” Dean said. “All of our drivers are like family. She was an experienced driver who had recently completed many hours of safety training.”
CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. — Getting to school has gotten a little more complicated here since Hillary Rodham Clinton moved into a home on Old House Lane. The presence of the First Lady (and would-be U.S. senator) has forced the community to adjust to new security demands. Joan Corwin, president of Chappaqua Transportation Inc., says her new neighbors have not created overwhelming problems for her fleet of 45 buses and 65 vans. However, one van that travels along Clinton’s street is occasionally required to undergo special scrutiny. Corwin says the van, which carries kindergartners, is stopped and examined by bomb-sniffing dogs whenever Mrs. Clinton is in residence. According to Corwin, parents and school officials understand the inevitable waits. “You get used to it,” she said. Of course, a visit from Hillary’s hubby can be disruptive, especially “when he decides to go out with his motorcade during the hours when we’re trying to get the kids out to school,” Corwin said. She added that the U.S. Secret Service and local police must close the streets the President travels on, causing delays and throwing her buses off schedule.
AUSTIN, Texas — John Elliott, the former president of First Student Inc. in St. Louis, has been named president and chief operating officer at National Express Corp. Elliott has more than 28 years of experience in school transportation. During his tenure at First Student, formerly Ryder Student Transportation Services, the company acquired and integrated more than 40 school bus companies. National Express currently serves more than 307 school districts in 19 states, transporting 356,000 students each year. Meanwhile, E. Bruce Lyskawa was named interim president of First Student, where he was senior vice president of sales and marketing. Lyskawa was the president and chief executive of Bruce Transportation Group, based in Hudson, N.H., when it was acquired by First Student last year. First Student, North America’s second-largest school bus contractor, transports 650,000 students in 25 states.
LOS ANGELES — The Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is creating a program to promote and support the use of “green” vehicles for school transportation in Southern California. Called Adopt-a-Bus, the effort will focus on soliciting funding for the retrofit of particulate traps on diesel school buses and for the purchase of natural gas–powered buses. So far General Motors has donated $250,000 to the program. The program will also gauge the interest of school bus fleets in Southern California in retrofitting their buses with the particulate trap and with buying natural gas buses. An AQMD spokesman said the particulate traps, when used in combination with low-sulfur diesel fuel, can reduce soot emissions by 80 percent.
CLINTON, Mich. — A 13-year-old boy was struck and killed by a cement truck after getting off his school bus on Sept. 6. Joseph McClanahan reportedly darted in front of the bus and into the path of the oncoming truck, despite the screams of his bus driver, Sherry Service. According to the Toledo Blade, the bus was pulled onto the shoulder of U.S. Highway 12 with its yellow hazard lights activated when the boy unexpectedly crossed in front of the bus. The boy and his 9-year-old brother live on the same side of the road where the bus discharges. Police speculate that Joseph was crossing the street to check the mailbox. In Michigan, school buses are not required to extend their stop arms and activate their red warning lights during unloading stops on highways with speed limits over 35 mph when the children will not be crossing the road. Authorities say the bus driver acted properly by activating the yellow warning lights and pulling completely off the highway before discharging Joseph.
MOORPARK, Calif. — School districts and contractors searching for ways to reduce their overhead might want to consider outsourcing their routing and scheduling. Although most school districts and contractors prefer to purchase routing and scheduling software packages, many of them discover that it’s much more difficult to use the software than advertised, according to Charles Devlin, chief executive of R&D Transportation Services Inc. in Moorpark, Calif. “There is a real danger that the district will be out the cost of an expensive software package with no discernible results in reducing transportation cost,” Devlin says. Devlin cited a reduction in the number of buses operated by Ventura County Superintendent of Schools from 83 to 72 after the district contracted out its routing and scheduling. To build an effective plan, Devlin said route and schedule designers must work hand-in-hand with experienced drivers and transportation personnel. “Route designers need the first-hand real-world knowledge drivers possess that is critical to successful route design, such as traffic patterns and student needs,” he said. The route designer may even need to ride with drivers to truly understand the requirements of their routes. Devlin said one approach to outsourcing routing and scheduling is called gain-share, which allows the scheduling specialist who is responsible for route design to share in a percentage of the money saved/gained by the school district from a reduction in the number of buses on the road. “This increases profits/savings for the district and the scheduling specialist without the need to cut back on services,” Devlin said. If the specialist does not significantly cut the district’s expenses, he gets paid only a fixed fee. This approach provides incentives for the district and vendors alike to work toward cost reduction. In addition to the advantage of potential cost savings, Devlin said outsourcing routing and scheduling functions to a consultant enables the transportation staff to do the jobs for which they were trained.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Officials at Lee County (Fla.) School District made a last-minute routing change this fall, upon discovering that one of the district’s school bus stops was located in front of the home of a convicted sexual offender. Jose Bruno, who lives in the house behind the stop, is serving 15 years’ probation on two counts of sexual battery against a 14-year-old girl. In December 1999, he registered with the county as a sexual predator. Tammy Bess, mother of 6- and 8- year-old girls who take the bus, called the district to complain. She learned of Bruno’s whereabouts from neighbors and confirmed the rumors by consulting the Florida Department of Law Website. After filing a complaint with her daughters’ school, she called the transportation department and then the police. Allowing children to gather in front of Bruno’s house is like “hanging a piece of meat in front of a dog,” Bess told the Miami Herald. The school district, which does not routinely check stops for proximity to sex offenders’ homes, agreed to move the stop.
INDIANAPOLIS — There is a widespread shortage of qualified school bus drivers in Indiana, with about a third of the state’s 300 public school districts reporting severe operational problems caused by the shortage. That’s one of the findings of a study conducted by the Sociology Research Lab at Indiana State University. The study involved telephone interviews of 50 transportation officials randomly selected from 297 school districts. More than three-quarters of the respondents cited the part-time nature of the position as a reason for the shortage. And the three most common answers to questions about reasons for the shortage were related to pay.