Top 10 Maintenance Programs for 2007

<I>SBF</I> staff editors Steve Hirano, Thomas McMahon, Claire Atkinson and Tim Crowley
Posted on April 1, 2007

About half of the technicians at Blue Springs have more than 25 years of experience.


Drawing on experience, technology

Blue Springs School District
Blue Springs, Mo.

With an experienced team of technicians and a modernized maintenance facility, the Blue Springs School District has a firm grip on safe and reliable pupil transportation.

About half of the shop staffers have served more than 25 years in their field, and their experience shows. One clear indication is Blue Springs’ performance on annual inspections by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The district has achieved a score of at least 90 percent for 15 years in a row.

Transportation Director Glen McMillian says that keeping up with advances in maintenance technology is a key element of Blue Springs’ program. The shop is equipped with wireless Internet access, allowing the technicians to check the Web for parts and specifications for the fleet. Each two technicians have their own computer, which they also use to run diagnostics on the buses.

Drivers at Blue Springs use Zonar’s Electronic Vehicle Inspection Report System for pre-trip examinations of their buses, feeding data into a separate maintenance software program and allowing shop staff and supervisors to check up on their work. McMillian says that the technology can fit a year’s worth of pre-trip inspection records on one disc, eliminating stacks of paperwork and enabling easier access to the information.

The department also makes use of Zonar’s GPS capability to keep track of the buses as well as to monitor their idle time and speed.

“If someone breaks down, we don’t have to guess where they are,” McMillian says. “We can find exactly where they are and the best way to get there.”

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 147 buses, 177 total vehicles
Total shop staff: 9
Number of bus bays: 7
Annual mileage: 1,800,000
Students transported: 10,000
Schools served: 23


All of Discovery Coach’s technicians have gone through a two- or-four-year technical college program.


Teamwork helps techs watch for problems

Discovery Coach
Sheboygan, Wis.

Discovery Coach provides school bus service to the Sheboygan Area School District as part of its diverse menu of transportation offerings. Established in 1949 by John and Lucille Prigge with their sons, Jerry and Jim, the company is currently operated by the third generation of the Prigge family and also offers chartered bus service and operates tours in and around the state.

For Discovery, the family atmosphere extends to the shop. President Dennis Prigge says that a strong working relationship between drivers and technicians is his shop’s greatest strength. Accordingly, he encourages and facilitates that relationship’s development, having techs participate in driver meetings and functions. As a result, techs and drivers work together to address issues with each vehicle as they arise.

Working together is also an important component for the technicians during the repair process. “Very often, they will bring in a working vehicle with the same system [as the one being repaired] and put them side by side to compare and troubleshoot problems,” says Prigge.

All of the company’s technicians have gone through either a two- or four-year mechanic program at various technical colleges in the state, Prigge says. In addition, most have attended several clinics and seminars held by school bus and motorcoach manufacturers. Combined, Discovery technicians have over 135 years of experience.

The shop sticks to a 2,000-mile inspection program as part of its preventative maintenance, and whenever a vehicle comes into the shop for repairs, the bus tech gives the vehicle the same thorough inspection.

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 60 school buses, 70 total vehicles
Total shop staff: 5
Number of bus bays: 11
Annual mileage: 650,000
Students transported: 3,200
Schools served: 34


Gary Walk, fleet manager at DCSD, says that he is “very proud of the people I work with for doing an outstanding job each day.”


Accomplished crew keeps improving

Douglas County School District
Castle Rock, Colo.

The maintenance team at Douglas County School District (DCSD) has its area of service covered. Its members are stationed in three terminals across the county, and they have more than 300 years of experience in professional vehicle maintenance.

Fleet Manager Gary Walk says that the district’s technicians are among the best in the state. “Their knowledge is exhibited on a daily basis looking at the condition of our fleet,” he says.

The fleet consists of a variety of bus types, from 84-passenger transits to 14-passenger multi-function buses. Over the past few years, DCSD has purchased the largest quantity (23) of Thomas Built Buses’ C2 in Colorado. Walk says that his operation receives outstanding support from Jon Shaw at Transwest Trucks, the state’s Thomas Built dealer.

DCSD’s preventive maintenance program includes brake adjustment inspections and grease at 4,000 miles, 41-point inspections at 8,000 miles and annual 108-point inspections.

The technicians receive ongoing training in such advanced topics as multiplex wiring and computer-controlled engines. They are required to carry and maintain School Bus Inspectors Certificates issued by the Colorado Department of Education, and many of them have Master ASE certification as well.

Walk was named Fleet Manager of the Year for the 2005-06 school year by the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association. In a recommendation letter for the award, DCSD Director of Transportation Paul Balon wrote, “What [Walk] does for the district shows up in many ways, from fuel savings, inventory structure of quality and costing, and working with his mechanics to make sure they have the skills to continue being the very best.”

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 277 buses, 427 total vehicles
Total shop staff: 22
Number of bus bays: 16
Annual mileage: 4,000,000
Students transported: 13,412
Schools served: 67

Teamwork, inside and out

Emmett Independent School District #221
Emmett, Idaho

The concept of teamwork goes beyond district boundaries at this school division in Idaho. Transportation Supervisor Kim Webb says he’s familiar with pretty much all of the school transportation managers within 100 miles.

This network of pupil transportation colleagues has paid dividends for the maintenance program. For example, the district recently needed a seal driver for an older model chassis that would have cost $600 to buy new. Instead, it was able to borrow the driver from a neighboring district. “To me, we’re all one team,” Webb says. “We’re all trying to keep kids safe.”

Webb says internal teamwork is important, too. “If one of our drivers notices that another’s bus has a burned-out tail light or brake light, they’ll call it in.”

This makes life easier for the two-man maintenance staff, which in 2005 recorded a 99.9 percent pass rate on its state inspection, the best in Idaho. “That’s pretty typical,” Webb says. “I took over a good program 16 years ago and made some improvements here and there, but it was good to start with.”

With 34 buses to maintain, the two technicians — one a 28-year veteran and the other a promising rookie — are stretched to keep the buses in working order. “Few things aren’t fixed within the day,” Webb says. Aiding them, however, is the standardization of the fleet. All of the buses were built by Thomas Built Buses. This homogeneity makes it simpler for the technicians to maintain the vehicles and allows the district to optimize its parts stocking, which has become an important cost issue because of the high cost of freight.

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 34 buses
Total shop staff: 4
Number of bus bays: 4
Annual mileage: 361,999
Students transported: 1,430
Schools served: 8

New Britain Transportation Co.’s school bus fleet transports more than 15,000 students in three Connecticut towns.


A staff with decades of experience

New Britain Transportation Co.
Berlin, Conn.

The New Britain Transportation Co. (NBT) has been in the Agostini family for over 80 years. Peter and Rose Agostini founded the company in 1920 with the purchase of an Atlas bus, which they put in competition with the local trolleys for a “nickel a ride.”

Today, in addition to charter and shuttle bus service, the company provides school bus service to the Connecticut towns of Berlin and Meriden as well as Southington. And the Agostini family — now the third generation — is still at the helm. An outstanding maintenance program has been and continues to be instrumental to the company’s success.

NBT’s 12,000-sq. ft. shop facility features eight bus bays, three lifts, a bus wash machine, parts department, electronics repair room and a dressing room. Mechanics receive training on an ongoing basis, and some are ASE certified.

“The greatest strength of our maintenance program is the fact that the mechanics help each other, working together and sharing ideas to solve problems,” says President and CEO Peter Agostini. The nine mechanics currently on staff represent 128 total years of experience, he says, and the most senior mechanic in the shop has been with NBT for 38 years.

The maintenance department is run by two shop foremen, and the maintenance office is staffed by two full-time employees for work order, data and inventory processing.

Scheduling maintenance around sold-out days and during state inspections is challenging, Agostini says. To accommodate the busy season, the mechanics introduced a second shift, working evenings in order to get the job done.

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 200+ total vehicles
Total shop staff: 13
Number of bus bays: 8
Annual mileage: 2,750,000
Students transported: 15,250

The transportation team at Pike County Schools looks after a fleet of 240 buses that travel a total of 1.75 million miles per year.


Skilled staff is a necessity

Pike County Schools
Pikesville, Ky.

With a fleet that travels about 10,000 miles per day over the mountainous terrain of the Appalachian foothills, Ancie Casey, director of transportation for Pike County Schools, says that good relations between bus drivers and maintenance staff keep things running smoothly.

“The personal relationship the staff has with each driver ensures rapid attention to acute problems, in addition to the vigorous effort we make on safety and efficiency issues,” he says.

Developing a skilled team through regular training is also a priority. Ten mechanics are currently on staff, each of whom receives annual update training and State Approved Inspector Training.

Some technicians are certified as Five-Star Gold Heavy Duty Specialists, and four have been certified in electrical and engine diagnostic training. In addition, two staff members have ASE certification. Casey says that on average, technicians have 12 to 15 years of experience.

For preventive maintenance, technicians do an A inspection every 20 days, B inspection every 6,000 miles, D inspection every 24,000 miles and N inspection on all new buses.

At the main garage, the three-bay service area is supplemented by an additional room for jobs that require longer services and a room for bus drivers to wait while their buses are being serviced. A one-bay satellite garage is serviced by two technicians.

Casey says that his department’s greatest challenge is delivering the highest degree of safety while staying within budget. To that end, Casey credits the parts supervisor with improving purchasing power with vendors, acquiring parts at 18 percent over their cost — rather than the 30 to 35 percent the department had previously paid — and purchasing oil and antifreeze in bulk.

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 240 buses
Total shop staff: 17
Number of bus bays: 4
Annual mileage: 1,750,000
Students transported: 7,800
Schools served: 27


The River East Transcona maintenance team’s hard work is evident in the fleet’s annual pass rate of 98 to 100 percent in provincial inspections.


Going beyond the norm

River East Transcona School Division
Winnipeg, Manitoba

The four technicians at this school district have a combined 112 years of experience. That’s more than a quarter-century per mechanic. No wonder Transportation Director Jean-Paul Dufault speaks so highly of this crew. “These guys know exactly what has to be done,” he says. “They’re self-motivated.”

Also attesting to the knowledge and skill of the garage staff is the Manitoba Department of Education, Citizenship and Youth’s reliance on River East Transcona’s maintenance program for research and development of bus equipment. Dufault is known for keeping close tabs on his buses and reporting suspicious component failures to Chuck Beaudry at the province department’s pupil transportation unit for dissemination to other districts. “There might be 50 other buses of the same vintage out there,” Dufault explains.

Dufault says his district exceeds the province’s guidelines for preventive maintenance. As an example, he says his technicians have reduced the mileage intervals for inspections. “It gives the mechanic an opportunity to see the whole vehicle more often,” he says. “An added benefit is it increases the times that he is able to discuss the vehicle’s operation with the driver.”

The result of the maintenance staff’s extra work is an annual pass rate of 98 to 100 percent in provincial bus inspections. “This is not only a job for them,” Dufault says. “It’s a team commitment to get the students to and from school each day as safe as possible.”

The garage staff’s relationship with the drivers is strong, Dufault says. “All mechanics are also licensed school bus drivers, so they are very familiar with what the drivers are up against on a daily basis,” he says. Because of this, the drivers are comfortable describing a problem they’re experiencing on their bus to the mechanics.

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 67 buses
Total shop staff: 4
Number of bus bays: 6
Annual mileage: 1,000,000
Students transported: 3,500
Schools served: 42

The maintenance crew at Rogers School District pulls together to ensure “the safest possible environment” for bus passengers.


Skilled staff reduces farm-outs

Rogers School District
Rogers, Ark.

Having an experienced maintenance team that works well together is a priceless commodity for transportation programs. So when Rogers School District saw three long-time mechanics retire in the past year, they decided to focus on creating a new infrastructure and recruiting experienced mechanics to fill the gaps.

They were fortunate enough to find candidates that were already very experienced in maintenance (two are ASE certified), and they restructured their program to include a service manager position to help improve efficiency.

The result is that the staff can now do 90 percent of all maintenance in-house — rarely ever having to farm out work.

As Transportation Director Barney Hayes says, “These guys are able to do anything from minor maintenance all the way up to changing out an engine, to rebuilding an engine internally, to changing transmissions, and it’s really resulted in tremendous savings for us.”

The facilities include three maintenance bays and one wash bay for cleaning and detailing. There is also a fuel farm for on-sight refueling and an office area for the service manager.

In keeping with today’s technology, the technicians use Dolphin maintenance software, scan tools and electronic diagnostics for the vehicles.

Hayes says of the crew, “They pull together real well as a team, and they take pride in the product that they put out. They want the safest possible environment for our students, and they deliver.”

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 120 buses, 138 total vehicles
Total shop staff: 5
Number of bus bays: 4
Annual mileage: 1,126,956
Students transported: 13,000
Schools served: 19

Service Manager Mike Ray and the rest of the maintenance crew at Sumner County look after a fleet of 215 buses that travel a total of 1.3 million miles per year.


Shop excels through adversity

Sumner County Schools
Gallatin, Tenn.

In pupil transportation, when unforeseen problems arise, it’s important to have a team that can adjust as needed. The maintenance staff at Sumner County Schools is such a team, and they recently had to prove it.

On a Friday in late February, a district car was involved in a minor accident. The crew examined the car and then placed it in the shop to get an early start on it Monday morning. But over the weekend, the car caught fire, and though the fire didn’t spread, the car burned all the way through and the shop suffered heavy smoke damage.

With the entire shop covered in soot, the team needed to adjust so that they could continue to properly maintain the fleet without their standard shop. Operations manager Earline Holt divvied up the mechanics and buses to various satellite shops and locations throughout the county, and they have used a portable office and radio to conduct operations. Renovations on the damaged shop were expected to be finished by mid-March.

“We’ve been able to run the whole system without anyone ever knowing that we’re out of our building,” Holt says.

The team maintains a fleet of 215 buses, putting extra effort into preventative maintenance and safety, and mechanics are sent to training seminars on a regular basis. Holt says that the buses are serviced at least every 60 days, and sometimes more, and that they pay close attention to details.

“I never cut corners with safety,” Holt says. “This is precious cargo we’re moving, and we all take it seriously — the mechanics, the dispatcher, everyone.”

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 215 buses, 305 total vehicles
Total shop staff: 12
Number of bus bays: 12
Annual mileage: 1,300,000
Students transported: 27,000
Schools served: 43


District relishes dedication to duty

Washoe County School District
Reno, Nev.

One thing James Means has learned in his years as a military commander and a pupil transportation manager is the value of “good people.”

The director of transportation at Washoe County School District says that dedication and experience are key strengths of his operation. More than half of the maintenance staff members have at least 20 years of service in their field. Many have been with Washoe County for at least 15 years, including Fleet Maintenance Supervisor Todd Duncan, who has been there 20 years.

Several of the technicians have ASE certification. Two are Master ASE technicians, and Duncan says that the rest will have achieved that title within the next few years.

Washoe County’s preventive maintenance routine has buses coming into the shop every 5,000 miles. There are four levels of scheduled preventive maintenance, which range from safety inspections to brake inspections and valve adjustments.

The entire fleet runs on cleaner-burning fuels, including B5 biodiesel, compressed natural gas and reformulated gasoline. The district was recently certified as an ISO 9001 organization.

Based on information from lubrication experts, Washoe County decided to adjust its oil drain intervals from 5,000 to 10,000 miles. Duncan estimates that the move saves about $100,000 a year.

The maintenance department is equipped to handle nearly any type of work that needs to be done on the buses, including major jobs like in-frame engine overhauls and engine replacements.

“You name it — it’s a full-service place,” Duncan says.

Fleet Facts
Fleet composition: 300 buses, 700 total vehicles
Total shop staff: 33
Number of bus bays: 10
Annual mileage: 5,000,000
Students transported: 25,000
Schools served: 96

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