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March 14, 2013  |   Comments (3)   |   Post a comment

Contractors on school busing now, and what lies ahead

In this roundtable, executives from several school bus companies discuss driver shortage, the potential for growth in the contractor market this year, and what impact legislative issues — at the national and state levels — will have on their business, and on the industry as a whole.

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Are there any regulatory issues at the state or national levels that you’re monitoring?  
BENISH: We are keeping a close eye on the sleep apnea situation with the federal government. We believe this is going to be one of the most serious situations we have seen in the last 20 years with drivers’ health and hiring restrictions. We believe over 40% of the current drivers across the country will be affected by this new regulation.
Linda Burtwistle is president of First Student Inc. in Cincinnati.
<p>Linda Burtwistle is president of First Student Inc. in Cincinnati.</p>

BURTWISTLE: We are constantly monitoring regulatory issues across North America. In Illinois, the change from being a low-bid state will allow decisions to be made with a variety of factors in mind, benefitting both districts and providers. In eastern Canada, the shift to an RFP process changes the way bids are submitted and accepted. In several states, a change in summer unemployment status has impacted our drivers.

CORRADO: We are concerned about pending legislation in New York that would require all bus operators to retrofit every bus with a driver interlock system connected to a Breathalyzer. This is a direct result of three school bus driver DWI arrests on Long Island last fall. I believe this would be a terrible way to address this very real concern. There are several other steps that should be taken first before we are required to install interlocks on the buses.

DEAN: In response to several tragic accidents, our legislators and industry professionals are working to determine if safety bars should be required on Michigan school buses to prevent cars from sliding under the rear bumper.

Likewise, the Michigan Legislature is again reviewing school bus stop laws which currently allow school buses to utilize hazard lights as an alternative to a traditional red light stop in certain pickup and drop-off situations.

David Duke is CEO of Durham School Services’ parent company National Express Corp. based in Warrenville, Ill.
<p>David Duke is CEO of Durham School Services’ parent company National Express Corp. based in Warrenville, Ill.</p>

DUKE: Some of the regulatory issues we are currently monitoring include the elimination of unemployment compensation in certain states and “Obama Care.”

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry over the past several years that have impacted the contractor market?

BENISH: The biggest changes we have seen in the school transportation industry the last couple of years are the necessity of technology on school buses, and the responsibility of reporting this information correctly and quickly to our customers — digital cameras, GPS, and now we are seeing some districts asking for wireless Internet on our buses.

BURTWISTLE: Contractor consolidation is a change that we’ve seen over the last few years, which provides the customer with greater efficiency and greater economies of scale when it comes to overall purchasing power.

DUKE: Technology is impacting the operating environment more than ever. There was a time when GPS was “nice to have,” but it is quickly becoming an essential operating tool, helping us in managing on-time performance, vehicle idling and maintenance. Fuel prices are typically volatile, but we’ve seen a consistent climb in prices over the last several years.

GATTO: Over the past several years, the school transportation industry has been experiencing stagnation brought about by the prevailing economic conditions. We have seen school districts reduce daily routes, field trips, charters and eliminate bus service due to their financial stress. The high fuel prices of recent years made matters worse.

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Read more about: Atlantic Express Transportation Corp., Durham School Services, First Student Inc., National Express Corp., Student Transportation Inc.

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Its amazing how almost all of these contractor think in some part that driver retention is important, as well as benefits. The school district that I have worked for for 21 years, is just the opposite. You get punished the longer you stay there. Wages...the longer you are there, the less raise you get. I recieved a $0.07 raise, while the driver below me recieved $0.34. I have missed only 3 days of work in 21 years and 0 days in the past 11. there is no incentive pay for doing a good job...and, they now are in the process of taking away the incentive not to use our sick days. Before we could accumulate 54 days. When we accumulated the 54, any days beyond that (9 pre year)get paid back to you at 1/2 pay. So basically I would get paid for 4.5 days. But under their new plan, you can still accumulater the 54 days, but anything over that you will only get $25/day reimbusemnet. Well there have been many days that i have driven sick, becasue the incentive to get the extra pay for the unused sick days, but only $25/day, i cant afford to not take them...I guess so much for perfect attendance... There really is no ryme or reason for the way they pay us, and it doesent really make sense. Going back to the pay raise. I dont have any problem with them giving me a $0.07 raise...if they said...."im sorry, this is all you get this year becasue we dont have any money." but when they give a drive $0.07 and another one $0.34, that I have a problem with. It has been that way for years, and no one will listen. So clearly, in the district I drive for, they are not concernecd with driver retention.

Andre Waichulaitis    |    Mar 22, 2013 04:28 AM

We can not keep drivers because our district treats them with no respect. The administrators do not seem to care that they cannot find people to replace us. This week they had two routes with no drivers and had to try to piece together routes. Their ads in the paper bring applicants in, but most all of them do not pass the background or license checks. Oh well, I hope to retire in a few years and could care less if there's no driver to replace me!

KabinKitty    |    Mar 21, 2013 08:00 AM

Thats because some contractors don't want to pay enough to drive

John    |    Mar 14, 2013 04:58 PM

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