Already this year, I've traveled to more school bus industry events than I did in any of my previous 12 years with School Bus Fleet (six events so far in 2015, with more to come).
While it's not easy to be away from the office — and, more importantly, my wife and kids — this year's travel opportunities got me thinking about the value of meeting with people face to face.
As a writer and editor, naturally I spend most of my time at a computer, so it's important for me to get out of the office when I can, whether it's to visit a school district's transportation department, tour a school bus manufacturer's facility or attend a pupil transportation association's conference.
One of the key benefits of attending conferences is the chance to make connections with people whom you might not have even met otherwise. That has certainly been the case for me.
This year, I was invited to speak at two state conferences that — to my knowledge — no one from School Bus Fleet has ever attended. Those two events were held by the Oregon Pupil Transportation Association and the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts. In both cases, I was struck by the association members' close relationships and their commitment to helping each other improve their operations.
By taking part in the School Transportation Association of Massachusetts' gathering, I got to know a small, tight-knit group of school bus contractors from a state that's all the way across the country from SBF headquarters.
I learned about some of their challenges — recruiting drivers, for example, and dealing with Massachusetts' massive snowfall this past winter. (The pictures they showed me of giant snowbanks at their houses and along their streets were astounding.)
Incidentally, one of the Massachusetts school bus contractors had run the Boston Marathon, which I was preparing to run myself, and she gave me some good insight about the course.
As I wrote recently, the Oregon Pupil Transportation Association's conference gave me a chance to catch up with my former school bus driver, Diane Clinkscales, and to meet many pupil transportation professionals from around the state that I used to call home.
I also had the opportunity to speak at this year's Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference, which draws delegates from about a dozen states. Again, I learned more about the challenges and successes that transportation directors are experiencing, and I got some great feedback from readers of our magazine and newsletters.
Sure, I hear from many of you via email and phone calls when I'm at my desk, but the face-to-face conversations in convention center hallways and banquet rooms are the best way to get to know more people and to share ideas that can help all of us do our jobs better.
If you're going to attend the NAPT Summit or the NASDPTS Conference in Virginia this fall, I'll see you there — in person.
Thomas McMahon is executive editor of School Bus Fleet.
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