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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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Middleton gives an example of a door switch that was located to the left of the driver, making the driver look away from the door when opening it. "By including team members from various disciplines, we identify and address improvements at a very early stage," he says.

"We don't want a driver looking to the left when the door is to the right," Burtwistle adds.

Some of First Student's driver trainers have been involved in the cab committee, and feedback from drivers also feeds into the efforts.
Both companies note that improvements that come out of their collaborations will benefit the wider pupil transportation community.

"These innovations will not be limited to First Student’s use," Burtwistle says. "They will be utilized by the industry as a whole ... [and] will benefit our communities and students through safer, more efficient and reliable buses."

A new standard
First Student's parent company, Aberdeen, Scotland-based FirstGroup, has earned British Standard 11000 for its supplier relationship management program.

Middleton says that when he talked with his FirstGroup counterparts in the U.K. about the supplier relationship management program, he realized that First Student and Thomas Built were “already well on the road to achieving this recognized standard.”

First Student's own supplier relationship program works to keep costs down and to verify that the company is doing business with suppliers that, for example, maintain ethical and environmental standards. It also targets continued performance improvement.

"Both Thomas Built Buses and First Student share a common business philosophy on continuous improvement — both within our own respective companies and within the industry as a whole," Platt says.

There is no current ISO standard on supplier relationship management to recognize partnerships like that of Thomas Built and First Student. But the companies have been advocating for ISO to develop a comparable standard for the benefit of the industry.

"It's a great way of formalizing that relationship," Middleton says, adding that the new ISO standard could be "only a few months away."

Legislative influence
Thomas Built and First Student also see their partnership as a platform to benefit the school bus industry in the legislative arena. Burtwistle calls this "a logical next step in the partnership."

"We’ll work directly through our legislative channels as well as through organizations such as the National School Transportation Association [NSTA] to push the safety and technology enhancements that our customers need and deserve," Burtwistle says.

As an example, Platt says that Thomas Built and First Student worked with NSTA to advocate for a larger federal allocation for Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants, which support the purchase of new, lower-emission vehicles and the retrofitting of older vehicles.

Platt says that the partnership provides "an excellent opportunity to work together with our local governments to uphold standards that are important to us as an industry."

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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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