Other school bus contractors call him “The Senior Authority,” and for good reason: Larry Pierce has been in the business for more than 60 years.
The president of Pierce Coach Line in Roslyn, N.Y., was handed the reins of the school bus operation by his father in the 1940s, around the end of World War II.
In addition to growing the family business, Pierce has held key roles in contractor associations and has shared his insight with many colleagues throughout the years.
For his contributions to the school bus industry at the local, state and national levels, SCHOOL BUS FLEETnamed Pierce its 2008 Contractor of the Year. He became the 41st recipient of the award at the National School Transportation Association’s (NSTA) annual meeting, which was held in Calgary, Alberta, in July.
Pierce is a longtime member of NSTA and the New York School Bus Contractors Association (NYSBCA), and he has served as president of both groups. He was instrumental in launching New York’s first school bus safety competition in 1972.
“Larry has been and continues to be a vital part of the New York School Bus Contractors Association,” says John Corr, president and CEO of the Trans Group in Spring Valley, N.Y., and an NYSBCA board member. “He is influential in many of the state’s initiatives for school bus safety and operator advances. We lovingly call him ‘The Senior Authority’ for our industry.”
In 1987, Pierce was named the NYSBCA’s own Contractor of the Year. In 1994, he was inducted into the NSTA Hall of Fame.
One aspect of his company that Pierce is particularly proud of, his son Troy says, is that it has been a stepping stone for many people who have achieved considerable success in their careers. Several former Pierce Coach employees have gone on to start their own companies, including Bob Brown of Brown Coach, which is based upstate in Amsterdam, N.Y.
In the family
Today, Pierce Coach Line transports about 1,800 students daily on 175 school buses on the north shore of Nassau County, also known as the “Gold Coast” of Long Island.
During the summer, the company operates a children’s day camp in Roslyn and a sleep-away camp in New Hampshire.
Larry Pierce still serves as president of the company. Troy, who has worked full time for the family business for 15 years, is operations director. Larry’s wife, Fran, also works for the company as an administrative assistant.
The school bus operation initially ran just in the summer to transport day campers. Around 1948, Larry decided that the buses should be used year-round, and he landed contracts with three Long Island school districts. The company still maintains those three contracts and one additional contract with another local district.
One of the key challenges for Pierce Coach is shared by school bus operations throughout the nation: driver turnover. To that end, the 140-employee company has increased wages and benefits, making them competitive with larger companies in the region.
Still, Pierce Coach has a contingent of longtime staff members. One driver has been with the company for 30 years; a few others have at least 25 years of service.
When asked what has kept his father in the school bus business so long, Troy says that “it’s in his blood. It’s really the only thing he’s ever known.”
Other attractions to the industry are his relationships with other contractors and the opportunities to work together through the associations. Troy says that his father is “miffed” if he’s ever not involved in something.
“He was just at a luncheon with the New York governor,” Troy says. “They’re working on trying to exempt contractors from the fuel tax.”
And Larry’s colleagues are certainly glad to have him as a fellow member of the industry. “They’ve always called him up to pick his brain,” Troy says.