Productive Discussions on Pressing Issues

Kelly Roher
Posted on January 11, 2011

The 2010 National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Summit, held in the fall in Portland, Ore., addressed with intensity such issues as bullying and bus loading and unloading safety, highlighting the need for continued sharing of information on these topics to maximize student safety on and off the school bus.

Speakers also headed sessions that provided possible solutions to common challenges that pupil transporters face, as well as ways to increase operational efficiency.

Measures to ensure bus loading and unloading safety
Pupil transportation consultant and industry veteran Dick Fischer, together with Peter Lawrence, director of transportation at Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District, gave a presentation on safety during loading and unloading.

Lawrence urged attendees to connect with county officials to receive the latest mapping data to ensure districts take into consideration newly built roads, sidewalks and other changes during routing each year.

Fischer suggested that route sheets be tested by substitute drivers, as they will rely on them most during the school year. He told attendees to print text in a large font and mark locations where students must cross the street in bright red.

Transportation managers should also train drivers to evaluate stop safety and report hazards as soon as they arise, the presenters said.

The Pupil Transportation Safety Institute’s (PTSI) School Bus Stops Safety Guide and the National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures manual — which “should be on every desk,” Fischer said — were among the resources the presenters recommended to attendees.


Special event focuses on bullying

Some attendees expressed appreciation for Florida father James Jones’ newfound dedication to school bus safety and anti-bullying efforts, applauding his comments during a panel. (Jones illegally boarded his daughter’s bus in September and threatened students who allegedly had bullied her. He has since been charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing a school function, and has apologized.)

Also present at the panel table was Thomas Built Buses essay contest winner Chancellor Coger. Moderator Barry McCahill asked Coger about the types of bullying he’d seen at school. “People need to listen more to what kids have to say,” he began. “When I told my teachers,” he said, then began to cry and was unable to finish his sentence.

In a dramatic moment, Jones spoke up. “There are kids like this all over the country, and seeing this brings all the feelings back,” he said. After that, comments took on a new level of urgency.

“Bullying is not new, and suicide because of bullying is not new,” said panelist Kevin Jennings, who is assistant deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. “What I’m hoping is new is this is the moment in history when we as a country say, ‘No more.’”

Session offers insight on students with behavioral disorders
In an engaging session, Kathy Furneaux, executive director of PTSI, spoke to attendees about another common problem that pupil transportation professionals encounter: behavioral disorders among students.

She emphasized that when students act out, it is a symptom of their emotional problems — it is not the cause of their emotional problems. In acting out, they are attempting to stop whatever is upsetting them.

To handle students’ emotional disorders, Furneaux recommended that pupil transporters turn to parents to find out the root of their children’s behavior problems. She also said that it’s important for managers to trust their drivers’ instincts and observations about students and their actions.

“Students with behavior problems will look to someone they can trust, like a bus driver, to intervene and help them — acting out is a cry for help,” Furneaux explained.

She said establishing a behavioral intervention plan is important, and she provided several intervention strategies for drivers. They include keeping students’ interest and using “planned ignoring” when students exhibit undesirable behavior.

Workshops cover cutting costs, boosting efficiency
North Carolina state director Derek Graham gave a presentation that demonstrated how several school systems in his state have adjusted routing through a funding program that incentivizes efficient service.

Routing and fleet data is collected through a statewide computerized system. “Each district is compared to the highest performing district using real-world data, not some pie-in-the-sky ideal, to create a budget rating for the district,” Graham explained. “The incentive is to spend less and operate fewer buses to improve the rating.”

Without impacting the number of riders, and in some cases improving ride times, many counties have been able to reduce miles traveled per student and take buses off the road. Staggering bell times and creating hub-style bus stops in neighborhoods have been key measures in their efforts.

Tim Ammon of Management Partnership Services Inc. discussed the benefits of using performance metrics to improve efficiency and explain costs in an operation’s maintenance garage. He said that looking at performance metrics helps create a “cheat sheet” for where most costs are generated and the possibilities for inefficiency.

Ammon outlined 10 metrics that operations can use:
1. Overall maintenance and repair costs per VEU (vehicle equivalent unit. VEUs should be assigned to all vehicles to set a base level that measures fleet demand).
2. Total parts cost: This measures all work going into the fleet.
3. VEUs per technician.
4. Productive hours per technician. Ammon said this helps determine how
many technicians are needed and what level of productivity to expect.
5. Inventory turn rate. (This ensures that parts bought are needed/used.)
6. Number of fuel transactions per unit.
7. Replacement backlog.
8. Average mileage.
9. Preventive maintenance compliance rate.
10. Vehicle availability.


Officials share tips on creating a high-performance team
An integral component of an efficient pupil transportation operation is its employees, and members of Salem, Ore.-based Salem-Keizer Public Schools’ staff discussed how to establish a high-performance team.

At the helm of a high-performing team, Director of Transportation Michael Shields said, is a leader. A leader must develop a vision for his or her operation and establish a plan for making that vision come to fruition.

Shields said leaders also need to be aware of their employees’ skills and help them use those skills to support the operation’s vision. This requires coaching and training employees.

On hand to offer suggestions on how to have high-performing teams within the maintenance and operational sectors of a transportation department were David Farley, head mechanic, and Kevin Baker, lead router.

Farley recommended creating a one-year roadmap that outlines the staff’s intended goals for each quarter. In the long term, a three- to five-year action plan can be drafted, and it should align with the transportation department’s overall vision or mission. He also noted the importance of developing measurable data points related to, for example, preventive maintenance to track progress in accomplishing goals.

Baker continued in this vein, suggesting that operations set up periodic reviews of procedures and modify them as needed to increase efficiency.

Products launched at trade show
From school buses to software systems, there was a variety of new products on display at the trade show.

Blue Bird Corp. and Micro Bird Inc. debuted the newest addition to Blue Bird’s alternative fuel lineup, the Propane-Powered Micro Bird by Girardin. The Type A bus is built on a Ford chassis and features a liquid propane system by Roush Performance Products.

Company officials said that a 43-gallon fuel tank enables the bus to travel up to 320 miles on a single tank of propane.

Production was scheduled to get underway in the beginning of this year.

Moreover, presentations were given on new systems for school bus fleets. Transfinder provided information on its fleet maintenance solution, Servicefinder. Company officials reviewed key features that help in managing fleets’ vehicles, parts, inventory and work orders.

“This is an exciting new platform from Transfinder that responds to the specific needs of school bus transportation directors for a browser-based solution to more easily and efficiently keep their fleets at peak performance and safety levels,” Transfinder President and CEO Antonio Civitella said.

247Security Inc. introduced TouchDown, a fleet management system that combines video, GPS and G-Force.

With TouchDown, pupil transportation operations can manage all elements of video from their offices. For example, a company representative said that the software can be updated from the user’s office as long as the buses are within the range of the wireless network.

TouchDown also provides a complete GPS track record of fleet vehicles’ activities. This information can be retrieved and viewed within a simple application that links GPS and video.

The 2011 NAPT Conference and Trade Show will be held Oct. 22-27 in Cincinnati.


IC Bus unveils new Type A

In a special event, IC Bus revealed for the first time its new AE Series school bus.

According to the manufacturer, it is the first Type A that is fully integrated. The new small bus is designed to have a longer lifecycle, and its proprietary design allows for bumper-to-bumper coverage and ensures that customers have a single point of contact with the IC Bus network.

The vehicle has an IC Bus chassis and runs on a MaxxForce 7 220 hp diesel engine with Advanced EGR. To enhance serviceability, its full-tilt hood provides unobstructed access to the engine compartment. The bus has an Allison 100 Series transmission and a hydraulic split brake system with ABS.

Optional features include factory-installed IC Air, an ADA-compliant wheelchair lift and a tilt and telescoping steering wheel.

IC Bus Director of Marketing David Hillman said that the AE Series will be available for order in spring 2011. The company plans to begin full production in the fall.



NAPT names poster contest winners

On display at the NAPT trade show were entries for the association’s 2010 National School Bus Safety Week Poster Contest.

The theme of the contest this year was “Be Aware — Know the Danger Zone!”

German Salazar of Oviedo, Fla., had the winning poster in Division III and was the overall winner of the contest.

Here are the top entrants in each division.

Division I

First: Nia Isabella Garza, Brownsville, Texas
Second: Jennifer Sieredzki, Clayton, N.C.
Third: Elizabeth Beckstrom, Coon Rapids, Minn.

Division II
First: Angela Wang, Canton, Mich.
Second: Sukhmani Kaur, Akron, Ohio
Third: Emma Spencer, Sherwood, Ore.

Division III
First and Overall Winner: German Salazar, Oviedo, Fla.
Second: Kate Roth, Coon Rapids, Minn.
Third: Nicholas Moulder, Warner Robins, Ga.

Division IV
First: Celah Diane Malone, Portland, Ore.
Second: Zoey Make Vinge, Spring Lake Park, Minn.
Third: Patricia Kontemichalas, West Hempstead, N.Y.

Computer Assisted Drawing Division
First: Emily Davis, Baker City, Ore.
Second: Samantha Pezzello, Goshen, N.Y.
Third: Lia Peppers, Colorado Springs, Colo.

International Division
First: Shannon Anderton, APO AP
Second: Chanapa Mann, APO AP

Related Topics: Blue Bird Corp., bullying, conferences, cutting costs, efficiency, IC Bus, Micro Bird Inc., NAPT

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