CEO Martin Ward says the employees who work at Mid-Placer Public Schools Transportation Agency’s shop are its greatest strength. Pictured with the shop supervisor, technicians and bus service workers is Sarah Lawson, shop clerk.
Shop focuses on efficiency, driver support
Mid-Placer Public Schools Transportation Agency
Mid-Placer Public Schools Transportation Agency (MPSTA) has received a satisfactory rating on state fleet inspections every year with the exception of one since its inception in 1979. Martin Ward, CEO, says this impressive performance is due to the operation’s preventive maintenance program.
MPSTA’s mix of Type I and Type II buses are inspected every 45 days or every 3,000 miles to meet California’s safety inspection requirement. Beyond that, Ward says customized service intervals were developed for the buses. Oil in the larger buses, for instance, is changed every 8,000 miles (up from a 3,000-mile interval).
“We extended it based on our oil analysis program,” Ward says. “Oil sampling gives you an idea of the condition of the oil, but right now we’re focusing on how the lubrication package is holding up. As long as we have adequate reserves, we’ll extend our drain intervals, which saves oil and reduces the time spent on oil changes.”
To further increase efficiency and lower costs, MPSTA’s shop is utilizing Ron Turley Associates’ fleet management software to track vehicle costs. “We winnowed our vendor list to focus on those with short delivery times, allowing us to purchase on an as-needed bases, thus reducing inventory counts and carrying costs,” Ward adds.
Personal computers have also been set up in the shop to help the technicians track and plan maintenance tasks, and MPSTA has invested in a roll-around unit for diagnostics work.
Ward believes that the staff is the shop’s greatest strength. The technicians receive the bulk of their training by working on the job, but MPSTA also sends the techs to classes hosted by such vendors as Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems and NAPA Auto Parts.
“We’re looking into training on computer-controlled fuel systems,” Ward adds. “Engines have become electronically controlled, so to properly diagnose problems we need help. It’s a matter of keeping up with current technology.”
Keeping up with technology is a challenge for the operation. As a second example, Ward cites California Air Resources Board requirements that mandate equipping more of the fleet’s buses with diesel particulate filters. The passive filters that the operation has been using for years are no longer available, and the new filters have an active system that will require installing $30,000 infrastructure onsite for regeneration purposes. “We want to provide clean air for the children, but how we will fund the infrastructure is a concern for us,” Ward explains.
Another of the MPSTA shop’s assets is the good rapport between the technicians and the agency’s school bus drivers. The technicians practice an open-door policy and are quick to address drivers’ concerns regarding their buses.
“The technicians have supported the training department by teaching new drivers about the buses and their components,” Ward says. “They raise the bus on a lift and show drivers where the components are, what they look like and how they function. This helps the drivers communicate with the shop when there is a problem with the buses.”
The technicians have also created training tools for the drivers, including a bus seat mounted to a plywood base for instruction on how to use safety vests, safety harnesses and car seats, and a portable wheelchair station for training on wheelchair securement. They have also supplied bus parts that are used in the classroom portion of driver training.
— KELLY ROHER
Fleet: 60 school buses, 2 other vehicles
Total shop staff: 7
Number of bus bays: 5
Annual mileage: 1.2 million
Students transported: 1,800
Area of service: 1,120 sq. miles
Schools served: 34