In January, I will officially have 25 years of experience in the public school bus transportation industry. As I reach this milestone, I have indulged myself in reviewing the route that I have chosen.
As I look back, I think it’s an excellent opportunity to reflect on how much breadth and depth this industry really has. It is so often taken for granted.
When I first accepted my position in transportation, I thought that I would not find it all that interesting. After working in the social services field for many years, I was attracted to the idea that I might be a little bored. I thought it would be great to only have to deal with buses running on time.
I was impressed whenever I drove past a beautifully arranged row of yellow school buses facing a city street. I would imagine how much I’d like to work there someday. I thought that if I ever admitted this to any of my friends, they’d look at me as if I was a little off.
It’s about time, though, that we reveal that school busing is anything but boring. It is not just about a bunch of buses lined up in a perfect row and arriving at stops on time.
That is what we want the public to think, but we know it’s more. A whole lot more.
The first pickup and beyond
Before a driver even hops on the bus, he or she has to study the route.
Like everyone else, I learned the politics and the players, the policies and the practices, the paperwork, the personnel and payroll. All the “P” words.
Then came the “Qs.”
I learned hiring, training, routing, special education, bus maintenance, union relations and discipline. I learned about ITS (intelligent transportation systems), report writing, state statutes, local traffic laws, school bus requirements and ordering, budgets and planning. I learned workers’ compensation, leaves, unemployment, court issues, employee assistance, drug testing, licensing requirements and safe driver plans.
Soon I was initiated into accident and incident reporting. I learned investigative procedures: taking pictures of accident scenes, locating witnesses, checking the insides of civilian cars to see what the motorist might have been doing at the time of impact.
I worked with outside agencies such as police departments, insurance companies and attorneys. I gave testimony in court hearings. I learned about accident review committees and driver retraining.
I rode on buses, learned correct radio usage, the bus rules, how to operate a lift and secure a wheelchair, what a safety vest was, what to do at railroad crossings, how to make a proper student stop, what constitutes a safe student pickup, how to manage difficult students, how to use referrals and more.
Maintaining a facility became part of the mix: custodial concerns, supplies, safety and security issues, equipment and clerical needs.
Meetings were added to the repertoire: meetings with drivers and attendants, transportation staff, parents, school administrators and Exceptional Student Education staff. With this latter group, I explored alternate ways of helping special-needs students: using headphones (music can be so soothing), positive reinforcement (baseball cards for good bus rides), helmets for children, pillows to soothe children and more.
I learned the art of listening. I learned to find mutually beneficial solutions. I learned patience and perseverance.
Few outsiders will ever learn about, or come to appreciate, all of transportation’s complexities and nuances.
And this is only the first run of the route. My district usually has three runs on each bus route.[IMAGE]583[/IMAGE]
The second run
Having completed this first run, the second gets a little more exciting.
Roadeos begin. We work out practice courses, a county-wide site, insurance issues, bleachers, judges, scoring mechanisms, PA systems, parking, refreshments, advertising and media coverage. Incredible events! Great memories for everyone for many years to come.
On to the state roadeos! About 150 of us pile into buses and cars, supporting our team and helping out.
We create transportation newsletters. We win a graphics award!
We standardize our operations by writing a Transportation Rules and Procedures Manual.
We hold an Employee Appreciation and Resource Fair. About 1,500 employees and their families are invited. There’s lunch, a bounce house, face painting, performances by local high school bands and other talented students. Our vendors offer door prizes in addition to economic assistance. Then there are the community people: the credit union, counseling services, the Red Cross, the United Way, the police, mortgage assistance, the union, discrimination services, the employee assistance program, health insurance representatives and more. An event to end all events!
New and novel programs spring up each year, such as employee of the month programs, discussion groups, GED programs, fitness programs, parenting classes, an employee attendance incentive program, blood drives, United Way campaigns, employee holiday parties and after-work athletic events. The list goes on and is still going on.
Then as this second run of the route comes to a close, we begin …
The third run (my secret life in transportation)
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Come closer. All of what I am about to reveal is true.
Perhaps you have had similar experiences; perhaps you haven’t. But all of this, and more, has happened to me.
In my tenure, bomb threats have been called in to transportation. We’ve evacuated the facility. We’ve searched buses. We’ve called “all clear.” We addressed the great fears and tensions involved in receiving a bomb threat, which are overwhelming and nearly inexpressible.
Working through an employee “sick-out” (a walk-out is illegal in our state) was no easy task. We doubled routes, contacted schools, spoke with worried parents and did the best we could to keep the few buses that we had operating and everyone as calm as we could.
We met head on with hurricanes, flood conditions and blackouts (minor in comparison to the first two conditions).
Ever have someone arrested in your office? Police were unable to arrest the employee at home or on the streets. The district made the decision to cooperate with police by allowing an arrest at the facility. The result was an angry protest by drivers at the compound, high staff distress at having been subjected to this, and threats on my life.
Never lacking in excitement, one of our centers was located next to an active air field.
I returned from lunch one afternoon to find a small plane crashed at the entrance to our bus yard, effectively shutting it down.
I have had to deal with an overly zealous security guard who pulled a gun on a bus driver who failed to stop at the guard house.
Then there’s handling all of the following: keeping unwanted solicitors from entering the facility, arranging for upset parents who arrive at the center unannounced to meet us at their schools, redirecting angry civilian drivers to file a complaint via the telephone, stopping repossession agents from taking employees’ cars, handling subpoena servers and police insisting on conducting investigations at the site.
Ever have a tuberculosis outbreak among students riding on buses, initiating panic among drivers and attendants? Visits from public health officials couldn’t come fast enough to enlighten us and quell fears.
We’ve even had a spider outbreak — a brown recluse uprising in a few of our buses. Invitations went out again to experts to help us understand and combat these venom-injecting arachnids.
Other incredible incidents and accidents have had their impact: the driver who had a multi-vehicle accident as a result of failing to report his diabetic condition, a bus that had stalled on train tracks, the civilian who committed suicide by throwing himself under one of our buses, the bus that was hijacked at a red light, the incident in which students tossed seat benches out the window every few blocks — ending with police following the “evidence” to apprehend them and the bus.
Then there is the poignant story of a driver who, on a Friday payday, left her purse unattended on the bus, only to return to find her students already on board and her paycheck gone! In tears, she drove her students right to the compound. After speaking with the driver, I explained to her dismayed students what had happened, how it would affect the driver’s family who, like themselves, depended on their parents to pay for the food they eat, their homes, etc. A few minutes were given to them to leave the money on the seat — no questions asked.
Ten minutes later, all the money was there. Miracles still happen.
I could keep narrating examples, such as media exposés, breaking up employee fights (verbal and physical), being threatened by an administrator who had been recommended for termination, tales of lost children and late parents, a payroll clerk who quit on the day of the closing of payroll, the heartaches of employees’ family problems, and the joy of seeing employees achieve promotions and do well.
And still more.
But for now, we come to the end of the route. As we pull the bus into the yard, do our last walk-through, sweep up and close the doors, I wonder: If we ever did tell others what we really do for a living, would they believe it?
These 25 years have been anything but the boring. The perfect row of yellow school buses facing a city street is the great illusion that we all work hard to create.
Randy Mazie is director of the John Schee Transportation Center at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. He and his wife Debbie also run a school bus merchandise Website, SchoolBusMart.com.