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

SBF's Top 10 Maintenance Programs for 2006

School bus maintenance workers are often the unsung heroes of transportation departments. In our fifth annual edition of the Top 10, we again recognize the hard work and dedication put forth by America's school bus maintenance staffs.

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Top-notch teamwork and training

Fairport Central School District — Fairport, N.Y.

The eight-man maintenance crew at Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District bases its success on the principles of teamwork and the overall goal of excellence.

The shop works under the direction of Head Mechanic Peter Marini. Seven technicians work in two-person teams on assigned buses, with the exception of one technician who independently services the district’s small vehicles. When a team falls behind due to unscheduled repairs, other team members absorb the burden to keep the fleet on the road.

Technicians are sent to workshops put on by the New York State Head Mechanics Association, manufacturer training sessions and the New York Association for Pupil Transportation’s Safety Camp maintenance training.

The technicians use a laptop computer to access engine diagnostics and trouble codes, reducing the need to send buses out for repairs. Maintenance is monitored by a computerized program that tracks repair trends and costs for all phases of maintenance.

“Road calls used to be a persistent problem in the past, but these guys really work together to keep our buses running at top levels of performance,” Transportation Director Peter Lawrence says.

School buses are inspected every 30 days or 2,600 miles for “A” service inspections and 364 days or 16,000 miles for “B” brake inspections. In state DOT inspections, which occur every six months, Fairport has maintained a 96-percent pass rate.

The mechanics work well with state inspectors to ensure that the maintenance program is efficient and effective. Following a 10-year bus replacement plan and standardizing the fleet help to keep costs down for taxpayers.

Effective communication skills help to keep morale high. Concerns about the equipment or drivers are quickly addressed. The shop meets every two weeks to openly discuss problems and how to improve maintenance operations. The concerns are shared with staff through department newsletters called “The Steering Gear” and “Town Hall Meetings.”

Fleet Facts

  • Fleet composition: 122 buses, 147 vehicles total
  • Total shop staff: 8
  • Number of bus bays: 6
  • Annual mileage: 1,335,788
  • Students transported: 7,923
  • Schools served: 71



    Shop’s turnaround hinges on morale

    Greenville City Schools — Greenville, Ohio

    Seven years ago, Jerry McMillan, transportation supervisor at Greenville (Ohio) City Schools, was hired to turn around a discontented transportation department.

    Fifty percent of the district’s buses had failed inspections; state inspectors were not thrilled.

    “They told us if they found another bus in the poor shape they were in, they’d walk out and not return to inspect the others,” says McMillan. “That’s when I came in.”

    McMillan quickly implemented a solid maintenance program. Morale improved greatly, turnover slowed considerably and the shop has had a 100 percent inspection pass rate ever since.

    “We all worked together,” says McMillan. “That’s our greatest strength. Teamwork is important because students are job one.”

    McMillan finds ways to keep costs down. According to the latest records available, in March 2004, average annual costs per mile for an Ohio school district was $3.80. Annual costs per mile during the same period at Greenville was $2.08.

    Had McMillan’s costs mirrored those of the average district, his costs would’ve been $647,515 higher than they were.

    McMillan also believes in the effectiveness of a uniform fleet and buys nothing but Thomas/Freightliner buses. The last eight buses purchased have the 906 Mercedes engine with engine brakes installed. Use of the engine brake has more than doubled rear brake life.

    “Everyone works together to maximize the preventive maintenance program,” says McMillan of his mechanic Rob Widener, secretary Becky Hatfield and drivers.

    Widener services buses every 3,000 miles. Some buses receive oil changes at 9,000 miles, others — like those with the Mercedes engines, every 15,000 miles.

    After purchasing his Thomas buses, McMillan expressed concern over the high ratio of the 563 rear gear. Allison Transmissions and Mercedes gathered facts about the workload and terrain Greenville buses traveled and suggested a 529 gear, which is what McMillan spec’d on his new C2s.

    “We’re getting about a mile per gallon more because of the ratio change,” he says.

    Fleet Facts

  • Fleet composition: 29 buses total
  • Total shop staff: 3
  • Number of bus bays: 1 short, 1 long
  • Annual mileage: 376,462
  • Students transported: 1,762
  • Schools served: 9
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