School bus roadeos provide drivers with an opportunity to show off their skills, both written and behind-the-wheel, which sharpens their abilities and adds to their knowledge base. School bus technicians, however, have been neglected in this respect. That’s why the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association (CSPTA) created a school bus technicians contest three years ago. It gives mechanics the chance to showcase their talents and compare their skills with counterparts from other districts. For incentive, prizes are solicited from local vendors and distributed to the participants. The overall champion receives a $500 travel certificate, but nearly every competitor receives at least a door prize. "Everyone walks out of here with loads of stuff," says event coordinator Doug Samples, a bus mechanic at Windsor School District RE-4 in Windsor, Colo.
Two-pronged test of skills
The basic rules of the contest are similar to those of a driver’s roadeo. There is a written exam and a practical skills test. Both portions are prepared by the CSPTA’s Service Technicians Committee. The written test comprises 40 multiple-choice and true-false questions, which are prepared by committee members. Although there is no time limit, the contestants are on the clock. Should there be a tie in the final standings, the amount of time spent on the exam is the tie-breaker. The hands-on portion of the contest involves challenges at four stations. Participants are allowed 10 minutes at each station. No reference materials are allowed during the written test, but a copy of the CSPTA reference manual is available at each of the stations.
This year, the four stations examined the contestants’ ability in the following areas: precision measurements, electrical componentry, air brakes and Colorado’s minimum standards. At the measurement station, competitors gauge the maximum diameter of a brake drum, the thickness of a rotor and tire tread depth. At other stations, technicians are challenged to diagnose problems with eight-way light systems and air brakes based on a "driver’s complaint." The last station requires the contestant to identify five conditions on a bus exterior that violate state minimum standards. Points are awarded for correctly diagnosing the problem within the time limit. Partial diagnosis, technique, accuracy and speed may also be used to award test points. Each station is worth 20 points, as is the written test. Thus, a perfect score is 100 points.
The contest takes place on a single day, starting at 8 a.m. and ending at about 1 p.m. There is a $25 entry fee, picked up by the mechanics’ school districts. Winners are recognized the same evening at the CSPTA’s annual summer workshop. After the competition, the exam results are analyzed for weaknesses in specific areas. For example, if half of the competitors missed a question about small-vehicle automatic transmissions, school districts would be encouraged to provide extra training in that area. For information about setting up your own school bus technicians competition, contact Samples at 970/686-2811.