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April 12, 2012  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Forging a successful partnership

The strain of managing an in-house transportation department was running Hempfield Area School District ragged. Contracting out to First Student brought equipment and safety improvements, all while cutting costs.

by Brittany-Marie Swanson

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This 2012 Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner C2 is among First Student’s buses that serve Hempfield Area School District.
<p>This 2012 Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner C2 is among First Student’s buses that serve Hempfield Area School District.</p>

The Child Check-Mate system reminds Hempfield drivers to perform a sweep of the bus to confirm that no children are on board after the vehicle is returned to the bus yard.

“We’ve seen lots of improvements,” Abraham says. “[First Student’s] buses have equipment that can identify if a driver has been speeding. Also, they’ve got cameras on the buses.”

Routing changes save time
First Student has brought routing software and GPS to the buses serving the district, which has helped to decrease the time and number of routes it takes to pick up and drop off students.

“We’ve worked with [the district] in terms of routing and utilizing computer technology and our GPS system,” Catapano says. “Our knowledge and practices of routing helped to reduce the number of routes that they were operating.”

Contractor provides driver training
Catapano says that as one of the country’s largest school bus operators, First Student has developed safety and training best practices that have “benefited all the children who ride the buses every day.”

“The most important safety feature of any bus really is the driver,” he continues. “A well-trained, knowledgeable driver who is behind the wheel is going to have a big impact by operating that bus safely — and that’s more important than any of the features on the bus.”

Catapano says that First Student’s hiring practices and driver training program are “some very large pluses from a district perspective,” because they ensure that drivers are well qualified to transport students.

“Our training program is really focused on teaching people and exposing them to the types of issues they would deal with on a day-to-day basis on a school bus,” he says. “Then we combine that with hands-on experience on the bus, as well as behind-the-wheel driving.

“Because we operate so many miles each day, and do so many pickups and drop offs, we have the benefit of learning from our operating experience and history to understand the types of things that go on, and to develop best practices on how to address them from a safety perspective.”

Developing a strong partnership
Abraham says that the district’s decision to partner with First Student has been beneficial for a number of reasons.

“I could say that in dealing with First Student and their management, we have found that they are very professional and receptive to our requests,” Abraham says.

Catapano also speaks highly of the partnership. “I believe, having spent some time at [Hempfield] recently, they have a very good crew of people who are very dedicated,” he says. “They deliver great service, and I think the district is very, very happy. This is a really great success story about privatization.”

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