Even as Logan Bus has grown into one of the nation’s biggest student transportation providers, Michael Tornabe hasn’t forgotten where he came from. In fact, he has school buses running there.
Tornabe, the president and chief operating officer of Logan Bus Co. Inc. & Affiliates, grew up in the Long Island town of Merrick, New York. In those days, Tornabe rode his bicycle to school. Today, Logan’s Guardian Bus subsidiary transports students to and from school in Merrick.
“It’s a great feeling, going to those schools,” Tornabe says of serving his hometown.
His commitment to customer service even surprised the principal at one of his former schools, Merrick Avenue Middle School, when Tornabe showed up to personally address an issue.
The Logan Bus leader is also known for going beyond what contracts require, donating buses for fundraisers, for example, or finding ways to accommodate students’ changing needs.
“He does what he does for the sake of the kids,” says Thomas Volpe, director of transportation for Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District in North Merrick.
For his dedication to safe student transportation and his achievements in growing his business, School Bus Fleet has named Michael Tornabe its 2018 Contractor of the Year. SBF Vice President Emeritus Frank Di Giacomo presented the award at the National School Transportation Association’s annual meeting in Philadelphia on July 24.
Committing to the Business
Tornabe came to Logan Bus Co. with deep experience as an entrepreneur, but not exactly in the school bus business. He was previously a construction business owner and an inventor, holding several patents.
Tornabe’s connection to pupil transportation came through his wife, Lorinda. Her father, Richard Logan, founded Logan Bus Co. in 1979. When Richard Logan fell ill in 2003, Tornabe stepped in to help with the business, initially working in the shop while Lorinda handled the finances.
The son-in-law expected to leave when his father-in-law recovered, but that plan shifted when Richard Logan died in February 2005. Tornabe decided to stay on board at the family business.
“My intentions changed,” he said. “I kept bringing on people and growing the operation.”
At Logan Bus, Tornabe put in long hours and learned all aspects of school transportation while he worked to develop the business. That came through acquisitions and by picking up new contracts with the New York City Department of Education and other school districts.
Another opportunity arose at the end of 2013, when giant school bus contractor Atlantic Express went out of business. Logan Bus bid on and won some of the contracts left by Atlantic Express, particularly around Long Island.
“We specifically focused on the areas we grew up in,” says Corey Muirhead, director of contracts and business development, who is a native of Long Beach, New York. Like Tornabe, Muirhead relished the chance to serve his hometown. “It’s one of the perks of this job.”
In the 15 years since Tornabe joined the company, Logan Bus Co. & Affiliates has grown from 700 to 2,550 buses, now transporting some 55,000 students daily and employing about 3,500 people at 16 locations. The company, headquartered in the Ozone Park neighborhood of Queens, ranked No. 6 on SBF’s 2018 Top 40 Contractors list, which is based on fleet size.
Connecting with Staff
Beyond growing the business, Tornabe has made it a priority to build relationships with staff. He learns drivers’ names and bus numbers, and he can often be found in the bus yard or in the shop conversing with staff.
When Logan Bus took over Atlantic Express contracts, Tornabe came up with a fitting way to connect with new employees: He drove them on a shuttle between where they park their cars and where the buses are parked. The creative move tied in with Tornabe’s penchant for meeting people on their level.
“If someone has any problems, I start talking to them,” he says. “It’s also important to be equal to the people [who work for you].”
Carmine Tufano is one of the former Atlantic Express employees who were brought into the Logan Bus fold. As a manager for Logan Bus, Tufano says that he has seen Tornabe’s genuine concern for the well-being of staff as well as passengers.
“He is one of the most approachable people I have met and is a caring and compassionate individual,” Tufano says. “Since I have been here, I have been treated like family.”
Tornabe has also been credited for his commitment to customers. That includes a consortium of five school districts on Long Island, whose contract Logan’s Guardian Bus subsidiary won after Atlantic Express shut down.
Thomas Volpe of Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, who oversees the consortium’s contract, says that Tornabe and the company have “hit it out of the ballpark ever since they’ve been with us,” and this year the consortium renewed its contract with Guardian for another three years.
Volpe says that Tornabe consistently goes beyond what the contract requires. That includes donating a bus to shuttle participants in Bellmore-Merrick’s annual 5K run/walk fundraiser. Volpe gives another example that he says highlights Tornabe’s dedication to doing what’s best for the children.
“If I have a special-ed student that he currently transports to one of our in-district schools, but now has to go out of district part of the day and back in district for another part of the day, he finds a way of doing it for me,” Volpe says. “It’s something he doesn’t have to do, but he does it. It’s an example of him always putting the child first and worrying about everything else second.”
Tornabe has also gone out of his way to support various charities and community organizations with busing and donations. That has included the Queens Boys & Girls Club, the Navy SEAL Foundation, the Wounded Warrior Project, Life’s WORC Family Center for Autism, local hospitals, and police and fire departments.
Tornabe has also supported police officers after they retire from the force, hiring them to work in safety and risk management roles for Logan Bus. The company’s six safety officers carry out such duties as responding to accidents and monitoring routes, keeping an eye out for issues like buses speeding or suspicious people lingering at bus stops.
“It’s a tremendous asset to have them,” Muirhead says of the former police officers on the staff. “Their meticulous approach to work ensures the safety and efficiencies of both the buses and students riding them.”
The company has also made vital contributions in times of emergency. When Hurricane Sandy inflicted widespread destruction and flooding on the East Coast in 2012, Tornabe and the Logan Bus team stepped up to help. The company provided 200 buses to deliver food and to give rides to affected residents in Queens and the Rockaways, where many homes were damaged or destroyed.
Growing, Going Electric
Tornabe sees more growth ahead for Logan Bus Co., now with Muirhead spearheading the business development. Currently, the company is looking to purchase more properties in New York and in other states.
Another new development for Logan Bus is a foray into alternative fuels. In their latest contract renewal with New York City, Tornabe and Muirhead committed to a pilot project in which the company will operate five electric buses to transport students.
In his no-nonsense style, Tornabe notes that the pilot could lead the company to adopt more electric buses, depending on how they perform.
“If it works out to be great,” Tornabe says, “we’ll do more than five.”