Special Needs Transportation

That special feeling

Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher
Posted on February 1, 2007
More than 12 years ago, when I first started working at SCHOOL BUS FLEET, I went on a ride-along on a school bus transporting children with special needs.

One of the children was medically fragile. He was reclined in a large wheelchair that was equipped with a ventilator. An aide got on the bus with him, as his family tenderly bade him farewell.

The driver was a young woman, probably not more than 25. She was courteous as she helped the students board the bus, but she wasn’t outgoing and didn’t seem to have any special love for her job. Her demeanor suggested efficiency rather than sensitivity. But she got the job done without any problems.

While she didn’t seem entirely immersed in her work, this young woman provided satisfactory service, as far as I could tell, with enough attention to the passengers and their families to keep them happy.

Is efficiency sufficient?
I don’t know about you, but I wonder whether something more is necessary to drive a school bus that carries special-needs passengers. Should there be a stronger emotional attachment to the passengers? Or are efficiency, politeness and driving ability enough to carry the day?

I’m just thinking out loud here. For those of you with severe driver shortages, I’m sure you’d be happy to hire and keep special-needs drivers who performed as well as this woman. She took her job seriously, handled the duties well and finished her run on time.

But those of you who have plenty of drivers to choose from might not be so inclined. My guess is that you would prefer to employ special-needs drivers who exhibit a special interest in and concern for their passengers. I don’t think you can fake this type of interest. It’s either a part of who you are, or it’s not.

Or maybe drivers change as they get to know their charges over the course of a school year. Maybe the connection grows stronger and the interest level rises. Maybe they can be coached into developing a positive, caring relationship with their passengers. You would know better than me. That’s why I’m writing about this.

Destined for greatness?
I believe the same question would apply to all school bus drivers, not just those who transport students with special needs. And I think it also applies to substitute drivers. Although they might not know their passengers’ names, the better ones will make some sort of connection right away with a simple “Hey, how’s it going?”

So, tell me what you think. Are great school bus drivers born, or can they be molded into greatness? And, if they can be molded into greatness, how is that accomplished? Special training? Mentoring? Personal development programs?

I’m interested in hearing from you. You can e-mail me at steve.hirano@bobit.com, or you can call me at (310) 533-2452.

Thanks for listening.

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