Transportation Manager Gary Thomsen, far left, credits the high state inspection scores of Evergreen School District to a strong preventive maintenance program.
Evergreen School District
A many-angled approach to pupil transport improves safety, morale
Before he became transportation director of the Evergreen School District in Vancouver, Wash., Gary Thomsen worked just about every other job in pupil transportation, including driver, driver trainer, dispatcher, administrator and supervisor.
“When you’ve experienced all the different jobs, it’s better to run the department, supervising people,” he says. “You can better understand what they’re dealing with.”
In his 25 years with the district, Thomsen has helped to improve the transportation department. “We have received outstanding inspections the last 20 years,” he says. Many of those years, the department has had an out-of-service rate of less than 1 percent.
Thomsen says half the buses are on a state-recommended 13-year depreciation schedule, with the rest to follow. Fleet Vision is used to track bus maintenance schedules, and every bus is brought in for a safety inspection at 1,500 miles.
Ten full-time mechanics work in two shifts, and Thomsen says, “I think all of our guys in the shop understand the importance of their job and understand that the priority is always safety.”
Though limited funding usually leads to fewer new technology installations, Thomsen hopes to install video recording equipment on all newly purchased buses. About 20 percent of the regular buses are already equipped with cameras.
In addition, the department was given a grant from the Washington Green Air Agency to retrofit 80 pre-2007 model buses with diesel particulate traps and a crankcase filtration system. This led to significant emissions reductions.
Other green efforts include a no-idle policy at schools, five-minute morning warm-up and recycling of waste oil, antifreeze, tires, metal and dirty bus wash water.
On the personnel side, four full-time driver trainers work closely with the mechanics and drivers to maintain open communications. Since the drivers are the most comfortable and knowledgeable about their buses, they are usually the first ones to realize when something isn’t quite right. “We want our drivers to not feel intimidated at all about going and talking to the shop foreman about a problem on the bus,” Thomsen says.
Thomsen says turnover is low for drivers — less than 2 percent per year from a group of 205 regular drivers — and nearly nonexistent for mechanics, driver trainers, dispatch and other staff. He says Evergreen is one of the higher-paying districts around for drivers, and they average over five hours a day.
In order to keep up morale, programs are in place to acknowledge drivers. Once a year, the office staff makes breakfast for the drivers as they come in. Food is donated, and Thomsen says, “I’ll try to get the superintendent to come over and flip sausages with us, and get various other VIPs to join.”
Moreover, the end-of-the-school-year drivers’ award banquet is where the Driver of the Year is announced. The “Brag Award” is given to a person who goes above and beyond the call of duty. Other awards include perfect attendance honors.
“Our goal is to make drivers successful,” Thomsen says. “That’s the bottom line.”
— THI DAO
School buses: 240
Students transported daily: 16,000
Schools served: 33
Transportation staff: 280
Area of service: 55 sq. miles