Milking safety from buses
Johnson School Bus Service — West Bend, Wis.
Safety is not a mere idealistic notion floated around the offices and garages of Johnson School Bus Service to define the company’s identity. Safety is, rather, the moral fiber of this 64-year-old company. Aaron Johnson founded Johnson School Bus Service in 1942, converting three milk trucks into school buses.
More than six decades later, Aaron’s grandchildren — President Steve Johnson, Vice President Judy (Johnson) Holzmann and General Manager Dan Johnson — oversee the operation and maintenance of the company’s 500-plus buses.
The fleet travels almost 5 million miles every year, transporting 25,000 students for 14 school districts in southeast Wisconsin.
“Safety is paramount to maintaining our reputation and longevity,” says Gary Gonnering, service manager.
To that end, the company has developed a top-notch preventive maintenance program. These duties are carried out by 21 mechanics working in nine different service/maintenance locations.
Each terminal has an experienced shop foreman who supervises the mechanics, schedules the daily duties and responsibilities of the shop, orders parts and oversees the costs associated with vehicle maintenance.
Most corrective maintenance is performed on the premises, including engine, transmission and rear-end rebuilding, spring repair, tire changing and major and minor bodywork.
Gonnering credits much of the company’s maintenance efficiency to the experience and mechanical aptitude of its shop staff.
The fleet has an impressive state inspection record. “Our approval rating [for 2004-05] was an outstanding 96.3 percent, one of the highest ratings achieved by a school bus company in Wisconsin,” Gonnering says, adding that the company was touted on a recent local TV news investigation on school bus safety. In that report, Johnson’s 3 percent failure rate was compared with the much higher rates — one company posted a 48 percent failure rate — of other contractors in the state.
Fleet composition: 500 buses total
Total shop staff: 21
Number of bus bays: 33
Annual mileage: Nearly 5 million
Students transported: 25,000
Schools served: 14 school districts
Bus shop fueled by teamwork
Laidlaw Education Services — Kingston, N.Y.
There is no “i” in “team,” but there is a “team” in “maintenance” (if you rearrange the letters a bit).
This is made clear by Laidlaw Education Services’ Kingston, N.Y., branch. The maintenance staff members have built a strong rapport with each other, with office staff and with the drivers.
“We all get along well, we talk in the morning and we know what we need to do — we’re a team,” says Shop Foreman Don Spring.
Branch Manager Blanche Temple says that she can count on the shop to make buses available when they are needed. And when drivers are needed, the technicians jump behind the wheel.
Spring says that the drivers feel comfortable coming to the shop when something is wrong with their bus, and the maintenance staff strives to give them one-on-one attention.
“Our drivers feel that we have the best mechanics in the county, if not the state,” says driver-trainer Grace Ogden.
The shop keeps on top of preventive maintenance with the help of a computer program called V-Track. Spring enters vehicle mileage every two weeks, and the program alerts him whenever a bus is coming up on scheduled service so that nothing is missed.
Staying vigilant has helped the branch perform well on biannual state DOT inspections. Temple says that they’ve maintained an inspection rating average of about 98 percent.
One of the key strengths of the maintenance program is the deep well of experience and knowledge it draws from. The team has about 60 years of experience combined. Spring himself is an ASE-certified master technician, and the others are working on their own ASE credentials.
All of them go through company training. Spring recently completed a course specifically for shop foremen that covered management of employees.
Temple says that leadership is another strength embodied by Spring. “When the foreman gives the mechanics a job, it’s guaranteed that it’s going to be done,” says Temple. “Things run smoothly here.”
Fleet composition: 80 buses, 82 vehicles total
Total shop staff: 5
Number of bus bays: 4
Annual mileage: 1 million
Students transported: 9,000
Schools served: 5