If the length of a contract is any indication of a bus company’s quality of service to a school district, Kobussen Buses has some strong evidence: The contractor has been transporting students for Kaukauna (Wis.) Area School District for nearly 75 years.
And then there’s the contract with nearby Neenah Joint School District, which began in 1967 and continues to this day.
Kobussen Buses Ltd.’s dedication extends beyond its district customers. Over the years, members of the Kobussen family have served as key contributors to school transportation associations, and they are known for lending a hand to colleagues.
“I’ve been in the business 40-plus years now, and I’ve known that if you ever had a question, you could pick up the phone and they’d take the time to talk to you and help out,” says Magda Dimmendaal, president of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) and CEO of another Wisconsin bus company, Dousman Transport Inc. “Whether you were in the area and had a bus breakdown or whatever, they’d be right there to help you out.”
For their commendable efforts in their local communities and in the broader pupil transportation community, SCHOOL BUS FLEET has named the Kobussens its 2012 Contractor of the Year.
Frank Di Giacomo, publisher of SBF, presented the award to the Kobussens during NSTA’s annual convention, which was held in Milwaukee in mid-July.
Family business roots
With “bus” being part of the family name, it would seem that the Kobussens were destined for the transportation business. But founder Elwood Kobussen was a farmer first.
In 1938, the Kaukauna Area School District asked Elwood if he would be interested in transporting rural students to the high school, and he accepted the offer. Thus began Kaukauna Bus Service.
Over the years, more and more Kobussens came aboard the family business (which was renamed Kobussen Buses Ltd. in ‘68). Today, it is still owned and operated by the family. Joe, Dan, Ann, Scott and Melissa (Miller) Kobussen are the shareholders.
The Kobussens have long been involved in industry associations. Both Dan and his father, Jim, have served as president of the Wisconsin School Bus Association.
Dan is currently a board member for NSTA, and he is vice chair of its association and industry development committee. He has also represented Wisconsin and NSTA at the National Congress on School Transportation.
“Their buses are always clean and well maintained,” Dimmendaal says. “They run the company with pride.”
Scott Kobussen notes that all shop personnel are required to have some schooling, and the company pays for further educational opportunities.
Among the instruction for Kobussen’s bus drivers is skid-pad training at Fox Valley Technical College.
“They take the bus into a full skid,” Dan Kobussen says. “It helps them understand braking and loss of control. They know how to handle the bus better.”
Kobussen Buses started a driver training program in the early ‘70s — even though it wasn’t yet required by the state of Wisconsin. During this time, Jim Kobussen became a certified driver training instructor and began teaching classes at Fox Valley.
“My dad put a lot of effort into working with the technical college,” Dan says. “They have since become a leader in driver training in Wisconsin.”
The focus on training has been a key factor in the company’s exemplary safety record. Monthly driver meetings are held at each terminal, covering a wide range of topics.
Also, every terminal has a safety director, who is “constantly doing driver observations out on the road to keep everyone up to par,” Scott says.
In recent years, Kobussen Buses has made significant investments in new buses, equipment and facilities.
“They’re always at the forefront of new technology,” Dimmendaal says. “Rather than fighting mandates, they see the benefits of the improvements.”
Scott Kobussen says that the company — which runs 31 motorcoaches in addition to its 452 school buses — took delivery two years ago of some of the first motorcoaches in the U.S. to be equipped with lap-shoulder belts.
Three years ago, Kobussen Buses opened a new terminal in Madison, Wis. (All of the company’s 12 school district customers are in Wisconsin.) Among the features of the facility are geothermal heating and a two-way radio system that records all transmissions and can check drivers in and out.
But perhaps more than anything, it is the company’s commitment to its customers that keeps them renewing their contracts.
“We flex with the school districts as much as we can,” Dan Kobussen says. “We’ve reduced prices for them when they’re in a tight spot.”