1. Tap into the benefits of oil analysis. At Cassadaga Valley Central School District in Sinclairville, New York, engine oil analysis has benefited the operation in two key ways: First, it has decreased oil change intervals fleet-wide by about 50%.
“When you consider how much oil a bus holds and then figure [in the cost of] the oil filter as well, it can be a large savings,” says Bob Gilkinson, who implemented an oil analysis program after he became Cassadaga’s transportation supervisor about three years ago.
The second key benefit of oil analysis is that it provides an opportunity to discover any issues with oil contamination.
“We have had several buses where we have found coolant in the engine oil that was not visible to the eye but showed up on the analysis,” says Gilkinson, who is a former heavy equipment mechanic. “These buses were still under warranty, so there was a huge savings in repair costs that did not have to be taken on by the district.”
Cassadaga’s oil analysis has also identified fuel in the oil, which, again, couldn’t be seen by the naked eye.
“In every case that we have found an issue with one of our buses, it has avoided a major breakdown and very costly repairs that would have otherwise gone undetected until it was possibly too late and caused major engine damage,” Gilkinson says.
2. Decrease deadhead. At the Mason County Transportation Cooperative in Shelton, Washington, a shuttle program for drivers has increased efficiency by cutting down on deadhead — in other words, miles driven without children on the bus.
“We have schools that are not very close to our bus compound, and so we leave the buses out there at the schools during the day and one bus shuttles the drivers back here to their cars,” explains Sandi Thompson, director of transportation for the co-op, which serves three school districts. “We used to have all of the buses return in the morning and then go back out to get the students in the afternoon.”
In the past few years, since the shuttle program was implemented, the co-op has achieved significant savings in fuel and wear and tear on the buses.
Virginia Beach (Va.) City Public Schools has also significantly reduced deadhead miles through routing construction and design.
“We assign routes to drivers in the closest proximity to their parking locations and pair them with other schools in the tier structure that ensures lower [deadhead] mileage,” says David Pace, director of transportation services. “Since we do not centrally park school buses, this design is effective and workable.”
3. Reduce road calls with sand. Green Bay, Wisconsin-based Lamers Bus Lines has a number of routes that cover remote areas and sometimes require driving into driveways and farm yards to turn around. When there’s snow and ice on the ground, school buses are often susceptible to getting stuck in those types of rural locations.
At Lamers Bus Lines, coffee containers filled with sand help drivers if their buses get stuck in snow and ice, avoiding road calls.
To get buses unstuck while avoiding the time and cost of road calls, Lamers provides repurposed coffee containers filled with sand for the buses that travel these challenging routes.
“It [was] a hard winter in Wisconsin, and on one morning alone these saved us from chasing three buses,” says Cindi Lawler, school bus operations manager at Lamers. “These were drivers that called in stuck. We asked them if they used the sand, they gave it a try, and they were out and moving, saving us a major delay on the route. It would have been a 30-minute drive just to get to their area.”
The sand-filled containers also come in handy for lift-equipped buses. In icy conditions, these drivers can create a sand path down the side of the bus and around the lift to secure their footing as they deploy the lift and load the wheelchair.
The sand-filled coffee containers are “a simple little thing that has paid us large dividends,” Lawler says.