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September 20, 2013  |   Comments (4)   |   Post a comment

How Thomas, First Student are working toward a better bus

First Student and Thomas Built Buses’ partnership hinges on a high level of collaboration and transparency. Their efforts are helping both companies become more efficient and make improvements that could benefit the entire industry.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author


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First Student and Thomas Built Buses’ partnership hinges on a high level of collaboration and transparency. Their efforts are helping both companies become more efficient and make improvements that could benefit the entire industry.

First Student and Thomas Built Buses’ partnership hinges on a high level of collaboration and transparency. Their efforts are helping both companies become more efficient and make improvements that could benefit the entire industry.

The term "partnership" is tossed around a lot in the corporate world, often meaning little more than "doing business with each other."

But for First Student and Thomas Built Buses, their partnership hinges on a level of collaboration and transparency that goes far beyond a typical supplier relationship.

"We don't just buy buses and then hang up the phone till the next year," says Linda Burtwistle, president of Cincinnati-based First Student. "It's an ongoing relationship."

The partnership — which involves executive-level meetings, joint committees and sharing of confidential data with each other — is helping both companies to become more efficient and to make safety improvements that could benefit the entire industry.

"We share our best practices with one another, ask some tough questions and ultimately improve our relationship," says Kelley Platt, president and CEO of High Point, N.C.-based Thomas Built Buses.

New procurement strategy
In 2010, when First Student went out to bid for new school buses, the company decided to take a different approach than it had historically. The shift: focus on lowest total cost of ownership instead of lowest acquisition cost.

The company — which is the largest school bus contractor in North America — also decided to seek a procurement agreement that would integrate vehicles and parts.

"With 50,000 buses in our fleet, we spend millions on replacement parts," Burtwistle says. "This is about more than hammering down the initial price of a bus. This is about the entire cost of ownership."

First Student developed a matrix to determine the total cost of ownership of a bus, with factors including purchase price, warranty, fuel economy and financing terms.

Based on those factors, the contractor awarded its Type C school bus business to Thomas Built, which had already been supplying its Type D buses. Since then, First Student has also shifted its Type A business to Thomas Built.

"We wanted to standardize our fleet," says Kevin Middleton, First Student's executive vice president of engineering and fleet, citing the benefits of standardization in such areas as driver training and maintenance. "We have one manufacturer now that supplies our full range of vehicle requirements."

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Read more about: First Student Inc., Thomas Built Buses

Hey Sherry, I too work for First Student and have determined there strategy is to say one thing and do another. They are a private corporation that does everything they can to convince the public of their safe operations, but when it comes to budgeting, everything goes to the top. The bottom where we work is left wanting. The budget for the maintenance department is wholly underfunded and at our location in the West, a big show is made, but they don't even have a functional wash rack and we drive dirty buses. If a company is so about an image, you would think at least they would invest in keeping their buses clean. Instead they will pay us minimum wage up to an hour to wash our exteriors. Getting maintenance work done on our buses is like pulling teeth without anesthetic.

JJCantcatchit    |    Nov 16, 2013 06:54 AM

And for what it's worth, you can spec a p/a system without spec'ing an am/fm radio.

Bob    |    Oct 06, 2013 05:30 PM

I too work for First Stundent and the complaints list by Sherry are serious but may/are not Corporate's fault. The first complaint: no P.A.'s (We don't have any internal P.A.s here)is their location's Mgr or region's Mgr mistake when the spec'ed the new buses. The second one, high seat backs, is a federal standard for ALL school buses.

Bill Russell    |    Oct 01, 2013 06:00 AM

I have an issue with the way First Student says they are looking to improve the safety of the buses from the drivers standpoint. First off, I'm an Instructor for a First Student location in Moultonboro, NH. At my location we received some of these new Thomas Saf-T Liner buses, they came through with no AM/FM radio, which means the driver doesn't have an INTERIOR microphone to communicate with students, who, by the way, now sit in seats that are so high, the driver can't even see them, unless they're in the isle or standing up in their seats. It is impossible for the driver to get the bus quieted down when they don't even hear you when trying to speak to them. The manager will not put the radio's in the bus, at a cost, remember they came through with nothing, unless it is written in the school contract that the buses be equipped with INTERIOR microphones. This is absurd, coming from a company that says their motto is, "IF YOU CAN'T DO IT SAFELY, DON'T DO IT".

Sherry Marceau    |    Sep 25, 2013 04:05 PM

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