Shop implements cost-effective, creative practices
Clint Independent School District
El Paso, Texas
The transportation shop team at Clint ISD strives to receive as much training as possible so that they have the knowledge and skills to perform most work in-house.
Lead mechanic Edgar Carrasco says they attend vendor-provided seminars as well as classes at state conferences, where they can obtain ASE certifications. Two techs are certified welders, and four are Maxon and Ricon wheelchair lift-certified. Also, five techs have associate degrees in diesel or gasoline technology.
The staff performs its own bus safety inspections, which Carrasco says is cost-effective because the transportation department isn’t charged multiple inspection fees if repairs need to be made.
“Three technicians serve as inspectors. Each is responsible for about 30 buses. We evaluate each technician by the number of comebacks, road calls, etc.,” he explains. “They compete against one another, which motivates them to perform better.”
(A state official visits the shop monthly to perform an audit.)
Integral to keeping the buses in good condition is the shop’s 111-point preventive maintenance inspection program, along with oil and coolant analyses, which help the technicians anticipate repairs.
The shop has saved approximately $11,500 annually over the last four years through its upholstery program. When repairing damaged seat covers, the team only replaces with new material the side that’s been torn. The techs sometimes sew on eye-catching patches for the students.
Other creative efforts include making driver’s seat organizers for the buses and building an injector extractor for Caterpillar C7 engines.
The technicians have a strong working relationship with the district’s school bus drivers and often offer training for them.
One year, the instruction consisted of a pre- and post-trip “fair.”
“We set up tables, and each table had a theme — for example, air brakes and suspension,” Carrasco says. “We had the drivers look at a suspension system in a bus and explained how brakes work and why they have to do a brake test.”
— KELLY ROHER
Fleet: 92 school buses, 70 other vehicles
Total shop staff: 8
Number of bus bays: 3
Annual mileage: Over 1 million
Students transported: Over 5,000
Schools served: 13
Devoted shop focuses on safety, team effort
CommTrans/Matthews Bus Co.
McKees Rocks, Pa.
Paratransit company CommTrans and its sister fleet Matthews Bus Co. of McKees Rocks, Pa., maintain their fleets together in the same shop, serving the city of Pittsburgh and neighboring Sto-Rox School District in McKees Rocks.
The shop’s technicians and managers have school bus industry experience ranging from 15 to 36 years, and attend a variety of educational seminars regularly to stay updated on new maintenance training and equipment. Strict adherence to cleanliness and order are also very important to the team, something Mark R. Egan, fleet maintenance supervisor of CommTrans, explains was learned from a tough former boss, Bernie Vardzel, at Laidlaw.
“Due to our detailed inspection program, we hardly have road calls. If we do, they consist of flat tires,” Egan says. Cray Pulaski, shop manager for Matthews Bus Co., oversees the shop’s 100 school buses.
addition to Egan and Pulaski, the shop team includes two additional ASE- and Ricon Lift-certified technicians, and a staff member who focuses on utility services. The team also maintains a 100-percent inspection pass rate from the Pennsylvania State Police, all while keeping a great relationship with the companies’ drivers.
“Our greatest challenge is the amount of miles our paratransit vehicles put on, requiring them to be serviced more often. But we have a great staff that plugs away at getting everything done,” Egan says. “I think by us spending a little more money on things such as body work, higher quality parts and fluids, we reduce breakdowns and increase vehicle availability.”
The shop also focuses a great deal on safety measures, requiring all team members and drivers to wear uniforms with safety reflective stripes as well as attend monthly safety meetings.
“Everyone loves their job here and are very dedicated and never miss work,” Egan adds. “We have some buses here with over 350,000 miles, and they still have the original engines and transmissions.”
— JENNIFER WASHINGTON
Fleet: 100 school buses, 65 other vehicles
Total shop staff: 5
Number of bus bays: 5
Annual mileage: 2 million
Students transported daily: 1,200
Schools served: Over 45
Team aims for efficiency, quality service
Frisco Independent School District
Frisco ISD’s maintenance team of 15 operates out of two fully staffed shops, both designed as “drive through” shops to give technicians adequate working room.
In addition to automated fueling system and comprehensive fleet maintenance software, Fleet Supervisor Howard Keeling says having well trained, experienced and dedicated personnel is the shop’s greatest strength.
“In the last three years, we have had two first-place finishers, two second-place finishers and two third-place finishers in the Texas Best School Bus Technician competition. Two technicians competed at the America’s Best School Bus Inspector and Technician competition, with one of them finishing fourth,” Keeling says.
The shop’s 11 technicians have a total of 53 certifications from the Texas Association of School Bus Technicians, 92 ASE certifications (36 of which are in school bus), seven master ASE certifications, and years of industry and military experience.
Each is assigned an equal number of buses through the shop’s comprehensive preventive maintenance inspection program, which provides increased accountability for maintenance performed on Frisco ISD’s buses.
Karen Sadler, Frisco ISD’s transportation director, has also played a major role in the shop’s success, having implemented a variety of earth-friendly initiatives such as a no-idle policy and recycling programs for oil, filters and antifreeze.
Both Keeling and Sadler started their careers as bus drivers, an attribute that helps greatly with fostering good relations between technicians and drivers. “Our technicians treat our bus drivers as their customers,” Keeling says. “Our dispatcher transfers all maintenance-related calls to our shops, and the technicians talk directly to our drivers on the two-way radio system.”
So far, budgeting has been the shop’s greatest challenge, Keeling says, but taking time to develop cost-saving measures, standardizing the fleet and utilizing bus warranties has proven to be worthwhile. “With less funds available each year, the challenge is to make sure that the services we provide are maintained at their highest level. Safety always comes first,” he adds.
— JENNIFER WASHINGTON
Fleet: 201 school buses, 126 other vehicles
Total shop staff: 15
Number of bus bays: 12
Annual mileage: 1.7 million
Students transported daily: 6,000
Schools served: 48
One-on-one program forms school, technician relationship
Speed Wrench Inc.
Speed Wrench Inc. services the fleets of more than 50 public and private school districts using custom maintenance programs to suit the needs of each fleet. As part of the company’s one-on-one program, one technician is assigned to each fleet, so that “he can build a comfortable relationship with each driver,” says Bus Division Supervisor Tom Mastbergen.
“With the quality of our technicians and our one-on-one program with the customer, we can find and repair issues before they become bigger or more expensive problems,” Mastbergen adds. Each technician receives annual training, including instruction on wheelchair lift repair and maintenance.
Speed Wrench Inc. is housed in a 50,000-square foot, state-of-the-art facility that was constructed six years ago. The facility is equipped with six drive-through bays that can accommodate two buses each; two alignment rack bays and two more bays designed for use by the body shop.
“Each technician must carry a scanner or TouchPad computer loaded with all the software needed to work on the various makes and models of buses,” Mastbergen says.
The TouchPads allow technicians to easily diagnose check engine light, transmission light, body system and antilock brake system light problems on most bus brands. “With onsite maintenance and the various kinds of buses, the techs must be proficient and tooled in multiple areas of repair,” Mastbergen says.
Speed Wrench performs the majority of maintenance and repairs onsite — at a district’s transportation facility or at the site of a bus breakdown — unless the repairs are extensive. This saves bus operators time and money, Mastbergen explains. Regular maintenance takes place at the operator’s bus facility, eliminating scheduling and shuttling problems for schools.
“With the quality maintenance program and the addition of our body shop, we can extend the life of a bus three to five years,” Mastbergen says.
— BRITTANY-MARIE SWANSON
Fleet: Over 200 school buses, over 100 other vehicles
Total shop staff: 34
Number of bus bays: 8, plus 2 alignment rack bays
Districts served: Over 50 public and private school systems
Technician, driver collaboration eases bus maintenance
Valley Center Public Schools
Valley Center, Kan.
For the past 28 years, Valley Center Public Schools’ bus fleet has received a 100-percent passing grade on state inspections. This success is owed in part to its maintenance facility’s head technician, Raymond Keifer, and technician assistant Gene Jones, who have a combined 35 years of experience working with school buses and diesel engines. The pair also has an excellent relationship with the district’s bus drivers.
“Raymond and Gene work very well with our drivers. They keep drivers informed of changes and expected downtimes for their buses due to maintenance or mechanical failures,” says Rick Smith, the district’s director of transportation.
Keifer and Jones also impart bus maintenance knowledge to drivers so that, in the case of a recurring mechanical failure, a driver will be able to identify and handle the problem.
Drivers can also speed up the bus repair process by filling out bus maintenance request forms, which ease communication between drivers and the technicians. The forms, says Smith, were developed to improve the reporting process so “service work can begin when the issue is first noticed.”
To keep the buses running smoothly, the team performs preventive maintenance every 3,500 miles. An oil change is performed every 7,000 miles and, two months before the end of each school year, each bus undergoes “bumper to bumper” maintenance and repair.
At the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, the maintenance team moved into a brand new transportation facility. The new facility is equipped with administrative offices, a fully functional kitchen and two wash bays.
“In addition,” Smith says, “the fronts of our buses are protected by an awning in our bus parking area from inclement weather, which assists drivers when preparing the buses for the school day.”
— BRITTANY-MARIE SWANSON
Fleet: 33 school buses, 13 other vehicles
Total shop staff: 2
Number of bus bays: 6 work bays and 2 wash bays
Annual mileage: 461,561
Students transported: 1,500
Schools served: 17