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June 14, 2011  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Keeping the Yellow Bus Running: Part 2

In the second half of this roundtable discussion, four transportation directors consider ways to ensure the industry’s continued success, from succession planning to performance measurements to sharing services.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author

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Peter Lawrence is director of transportation at Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District.
<p>Peter Lawrence is director of transportation at Fairport (N.Y.) Central School District.</p>

PETER LAWRENCE: One thing we’ve talked about at NAPT over the years, with key performance indicators, is getting some consistent measurements. If we’re going to have key performance indicators, we need to be speaking the same language. That’s something that we’re really looking at as an industry. When I do my cost per mile, that includes all of my 32 budget codes, department operational costs and the building costs. So that covers salaries, office and garage. Some people look at my cost per mile and say, “You charge that much?” Well, that’s what it is.

MESLIN: We need to publish some standards.

LAWRENCE: And it should come through NAPT.

SHIELDS: At one district’s shop, all they did was charge labor. So I said, “Well what about the coveralls? What about the nuts and bolts? What about your nonproductive time: your vacation and your breaks and training?” So your shop rate doubles or triples, because those are costs you have.

We provide services to about nine other Oregon departments of education, community colleges, a number of small school districts and the community Head Start. So those are other areas where, as service providers, we need to start thinking outside the box and saying, “Hey, we can do these things for you. You don’t have to send them to a private shop.”

MESLIN: We have a similar situation where we have a shop with mechanics with a great deal of expertise and we have economy of scale. So the local community college district can hire their own mechanics to work on their four buses, or they can bring them to us. They’ve chosen our shop.

LAWRENCE: One of my neighbors ended up losing a mechanic position due to budget cuts. They looked at their coverage, and they had to expand. So they go to about 9 o’clock at night, with two people in early. The beauty of that is if a bus doesn’t start or something deadlines, you can take another bus, because all of the buses are there. Nothing’s tied up for service. So from a safety standpoint, drivers get their regular bus that they’re used to. They’re happier, and you don’t have the confusion — “I couldn’t find that switch.” Although, they should know that, as we encourage them to familiarize themselves with the substitute buses.

Michael Shields is director of transportation at Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore.
<p>Michael Shields is director of transportation at Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore.</p>

SHIELDS: Times are tough. But if we had those baselines — it takes this many hours to maintain this type of bus; you need this many people to do that safely — so that if we look at making those cuts, then we’re saying, “So what numbers of vehicles do we put out of service?” Or, “What vehicles don’t we work on?” But what we do is we put ourselves at risk — “we” being, generally, the industry. We take those chances. But we have to be generous in our understanding. The fiscal folks aren’t doing that, because they’re being mean. But if they had the information to see that if you’re going to cut this situation, then we’re going to have to extend our brake life or our safety inspections — they would say, “Oh, gosh, we don’t want to do that.” OK, where else are you going to look? Either we reduce our number of miles traveled, or you’re going to take this risk, because this is what it takes to adequately do that job. But we don’t have those standards.

Any other topics you want to discuss?
MESLIN: One thing that’s not related to what we’ve been talking about is succession. I think every business has two jobs: serve your customers and create your replacement. We as an industry are aging, and our challenge is for the next generation. Who’s going to take my place? Are the new people as interested in creating standards, in working on partnerships, in sharing expertise? Is that generation’s set of values the same as ours, with regard to serving kids first? We don’t know. It’s increasingly difficult to find people that bleed yellow.

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