Our discussion this month covers stop-arm running, drug and alcohol testing, employee recruitment, and other topics with Michael Martucci, owner of Quality Bus Service in Sparrowbush, New York, and president of the New York School Bus Contractors Association.
1. The school bus community in New York has undertaken a variety of efforts to crack down on illegal passing of school buses. What seems to be having the biggest impact?
There are definitely school districts where the illegal passing of school buses is a serious problem. In some cases, our members work closely with local law enforcement to crack down on offenders. For instance, we have one member of [NYSBCA] who collected video with a camera mounted to the school bus to show law enforcement that drivers were illegally passing school buses on a particular road. The police department then dedicated an officer to monitor the area and issue citations for a number of days to help reduce the number of offenses. This kind of action yields real results.
Constant education and awareness campaigns are also very important. The association hosts a statewide Operation Safe Stop event aimed at educating drivers to the dangers of illegally passing a school bus. The association is pushing for stricter penalties for drivers who illegally pass school buses.
2. What are some other key issues for school bus operations in your state?
We would like to see an expansion of random drug and alcohol testing for school bus drivers. While many contractors subject all their drivers to random testing, under current New York state law drug and alcohol testing for school bus drivers only applies to certain license holders, with some drivers excluded from the testing pool, including drivers of school buses with 14 or fewer passengers. We would also like to see New York State Department of Motor Vehicles keep a registry of drivers who have been disqualified from work due to failing or refusing to take drug or alcohol tests.
3. Tell us about your approach to recruiting school bus drivers.
Our strategy is to focus on local hiring initiatives first, including reaching out to retired police, fire, and EMS workers. School-related groups, including PTAs, are also fertile recruiting grounds. ... The network that exists within our own companies — current employees — is also being utilized.
The media, including radio, television, print, and local news outlets, can be effective tools for recruitment, too. We are also doing more to elevate the profession and bring awareness of the importance of school bus drivers. One example of this is holding a New York State School Bus Driver Appreciation Day at our state capital.
Current drivers also need to know they are valuable and appreciated. This includes fair compensation, ensuring a company culture that respects and appreciates them, along with high-level training programs and well-maintained and modern facilities and vehicles.
4. How did you get into the school bus business?
I started my career as a school bus salesman right after graduating from college in 2007 at the age of 22. I quickly realized that there was a growing demand for more affordable busing alternatives, especially from school districts facing ever-increasing budgetary pressure. I knew school districts could save money if they formed partnerships with private school bus operators, and thought I could help supply those services, all while providing schools with the safest student transportation possible.
After obtaining a startup loan, I purchased three school buses, procured three student transportation contracts, and established Quality Bus Service. I was even [the company’s] first bus driver and, within 10 months of establishing the company, bid on and was awarded Quality Bus Service’s first major transportation contract: the Port Jervis City School District in Orange County [N.Y.], a school district that had, up until that time, provided its own busing for students. Today, Quality Bus Service … [has] over 250 buses and more than 400 employees at three locations.
5. Do you see a need for more young people to pursue careers in school transportation?
Absolutely. Bringing in new and younger people is necessary to keep our industry fresh, stable, and vital. New ideas, perspectives, approaches, and viewpoints are essential to growing our industry and, most importantly, improving student safety. There are plenty of opportunities, too, whether it be as drivers, in management, dispatch, safety training, or school bus maintenance. It is an incredibly rewarding career, both professionally and personally, especially knowing that what you do has such a positive impact on students, and their education, by providing a safe ride to school and back for them every day.