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April 01, 2006  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Mechanically inclined

by Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher


They may not know why engines need lubrication. They may not know the difference between gasoline or diesel, or care about that difference. They may not even know how to turn a wrench in the proper direction. But it’s clear that bus drivers are an essential part of your maintenance program.

Many of the school districts and contractors profiled in this year’s “Top 10 Maintenance Programs” report mentioned the critical role that drivers play in ensuring that buses are properly maintained.

Here is how one maintenance supervisor phrased it: “Drivers are in the buses every day. They know when something changes or when there’s a noise that was not there yesterday. We depend on them to make sure the buses are safe.”

Normally, driver safety is equated with proper procedures for student loading and unloading, behavior management, rail crossings, emergency evacuation and the like. Their ability to recognize a minor or serious mechanical problem with their buses should be added to that list.

Complaints are a good thing
Drivers are the front-line customer of the shop. If something’s amiss, it’s up to them to report the problem. Many of these problems are easy to identify — a light that’s gone out, a crossing gate that gets stuck or a tire that’s obviously low on air. Those types of problems are reported right away. But if it’s a small shake, a persistent rattle or a subtle roll, drivers will often ignore it rather than bring it to the attention of the garage. Why? Because they’ve had their complaints dismissed in the past.

Whether the problem is real isn’t important. The shop needs to take every complaint seriously and to treat the driver with respect. It could turn out that the “problem” isn’t anything that can be fixed or needs to be fixed. But it could also turn out that the driver’s report of an occasional “whine” coming from the engine or a “slight loss” of braking power is an indicator of a serious problem.

Too many drivers ignore an apparent problem because they don’t want to deal with the garage staff. They believe that their write-up will be greeted with skepticism, neglect and perhaps even ridicule. That’s a sorry situation — and a dangerous one, too.

Help them understand
You could have the most highly skilled school bus technicians in the country, but if your drivers aren’t attuned to their buses and don’t understand what constitutes a real problem, the talents of your shop staff could be wasted.

All transportation programs should offer driver training courses in the mechanical workings of the bus. They should bring in garage supervisors to explain how engines, brakes and suspension systems operate. They should give drivers a tour of the garage and introduce them to the shop staff.

Many of you already adhere to this practice. And I’ll bet you’ve seen the benefits when drivers are trying to describe a problem. Yes, occasionally, a little knowledge can be dangerous. But in general, it’s a good thing.

When a problem is reported, garage staff should take the time to explain their handling of the complaint, whether it’s a short note attached to the steering wheel or an oral explanation that helps enlighten the driver about the problem.

If drivers are kept in the loop and educated on the nuts and bolts of their mechanical concerns, they will be much less likely to file unwarranted problem reports, and everyone will be better served.

It’s important that the transportation department operate as a team, even if the players aren’t all wearing the same uniforms.


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